“Michael is one of those unassuming quiet guys, who just goes about his job and never gives the ball away. But his range of passing can win you games. He has great potential and is a real Manchester United player.”
Sir Alex Ferguson
For a player that has won every major trophy in the English game, during a glittering career Michael Carrick doesn’t have many stand out games. But that is the beauty of Michael Carrick, he is unassuming in what he does. Since making his debut for West Ham in 1999, Carrick has been responsible for dominating central midfield, not by tough tackling and kicking players, but by keeping possession of the ball and at all times looking to move the ball forward at all times. Carrick is not a hustler, or energetic energising presence. He is intelligent
Michael Carrick is 35 years old, and his age has not diminished his class. He might well be the most important midfielder in the Manchester United squad, a squad that includes the world record signing Paul Pogba. Carrick this season finds himself on the edges of the first team, his age holding him back from starting every game. But the record that Carrick has when playing for United this season is something to behold
Carrick has played 6 times in all competitions this season, and has yet to taste anything but victory. While this stat can be misleading, in terms of opposition, there is no doubt he offers much. Carrick has operated at the base of the midfield this season, a position that Pogba, Ander Herrera, and Marouane Fellaini have all found themselves at points during the season. The difference between them and Carrick, is he is sharper in the mind than any of his Old Trafford team-mates. He is the player who can dictate from deep in the manner Marouane Fellaini simply cannot – and Pogba cannot yet.
He doesn’t run around, but that is because he knows where to stand in the first place. And that is what United need – a cunning and dependable presence in the centre of the park.
Andrea Pirlo did not enjoy his very best years until his mid-30s, and Carrick has the same intelligence to be able to exploit that experience and, arguably, make himself even more effective than he was in his younger years.
In an age of possession for the sake of possession, Carrick is not a midfielder who will make a pass simply to enhance the stats. Just look at his performance against Swansea. Carrick, in a game that saw Paul Pogba dominate, completed 95% of his passes during the game. Out of 88 passes he attempted on the day, a remarkable 84 were successful in finding a red shirt but what is more significant is the fact that 56 of those passes were directed forwards (52 completed).
Every ball is either the source of something bigger or an incisive probe upfield. Note how many times he passes forward, finding team-mates who populate those pockets between midfield and attack. He assists assists, his passes having invariably been the one that changes the tempo and tone of an offensive effort.
Jose Mourinho himself has stated he wishes Carrick was 10 years younger, such is the talent of Carrick. He is also aware that Carrick has to have his games managed as he can’t play week in week out:
“It’s one thing to be 25 years old, another thing to be 35 years old. That’s the logic of things. But the only thing I can say is he’s phenomenal. No doubts about it. Do I have to manage? I think I have to,”
“In five years’ time I think [Lionel] Messi will be 34 and we will be crying that the guy is 34. Michael is such an important player and is a player that it is very difficult to replace.”
The issue Mourinho has, is that it seems the one player who can get the best out of Pogba is Michael Carrick. Carrick with his ability to pick out a pass, as well as do the mundane defensive work that Pogba doesn’t like, frees Pogba up. Pogba needs help. He needs to be rid of defensive responsibility. Let him play the free role in behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic – that is far better than playing a free role in front of his own back four. It is there that he will flourish.
This is what Carrick will bring to the team, and Pogba is the chief beneficiary of that, obviously. He looks more at ease with ball at his feet safe in the knowledge that the veteran is nearby if needed and breaks the shackles when driving from halfway. The goal, Pogba scored at the Liberty Stadium was also a quite extraordinary strike and, as Mourinho alluded to, he does appear freer with Carrick close.
So there are decisions to make for Mourinho after this international break. Four home matches in 11 days and Carrick must be looking at playing in at least two of those. Logic dictates that Carrick should start the Arsenal game, especially with Zlatan Ibrahimovic suspended, United will need leadership on the pitch, which they’ll get from Carrick. Pogba will also benefit from getting further up the pitch, and it would be interesting to see him link up with Rashford, in a more forward role.
“In English football sometimes it seems hard for people to rate those who instead of shining themselves make the team work as a collective. For example Michael Carrick . . . who makes those around him play.”
– Xabi Alonso
It is a crime that a player of Carrick’s quality only has 34 caps for England, he has yet to officially retire from the international game, but it is unlikely he’ll add to those caps. One of Carrick’s key qualities has been retaining possession of a football, something England have always struggled with.
So it seems odd with every passing season no England manager, blessed with the midfield riches of the golden crop years, ever properly tested the idea that putting Carrick down first on the team sheet might have made the others – Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, maybe even Paul Scholes – click into place around him.
For now England’s loss, continues to be United Mourinho has at least been bequeathed a high quality component in Carrick, a player who remains one of English football’s more understated recent grand talents. While his time needs to be managed at United, he still needs more game time. Not only to benefit Pogba, but United as a whole.
By Rich Lee @RichLee2202