The curious case of Michael Carrick

by Omar Soliman

There are few mild mannered footballers that divide opinion as fervently as Michael Carrick. The man is as much a stranger to controversy as a Scotsman is to a George Foreman grill and as an ever-present in the team, you wonder why the fuss? He is the archetypal managers dream; ‘Play the game, go home, say nothing exciting after and stay out of the papers’. Innocent enough yet type ‘Carrick’ into any football forum search engine and you are likely to uncover vast threads drenched in vitriol.

To some he is an understated, under-appreciated genius yet to others he is a waste of oxygen and the single reason why United have not won the Treble for every season he has leisurely strolled around midfield.

Let it be known that in many social situations involving alcohol and perhaps roasted meat (certainly on these Antipodean shores anyway) your faithful correspondent has indulged in discussions of the beautiful game. It is what men do best when they run out of current topics of discussion with “So, did you see the game this morning?” being the usual starter. Inevitably matters increase in specificity and allegiances are divulged. Occasionally the water will be tested with the question that will either spark a fight or a love-in. It isn’t even a question of whether they go to the game anymore but if you want to judge a football fans nous simply see how they respond to an innocent query over whether they rate Michael Carrick or not.

So for those commenters who believe that playing Carrick is akin to starting with ten men then, I plead you do not waste your time and continue to read. Actually, on second thoughts, I invite you to only on the prerequisite that you post a fervently angry reply questioning my intelligence/sanity/freedom of expression. Deal? I will put it simply, I rate Michael Carrick as indispensable and as much an automatic starter as Robin van Persie. You read that correctly yet while van Persie should receive Players and Writers Player of the Year awards, Carrick will again be overlooked.

In mine and the eyes of many he is the vital cog in the engine room. While his demeanor is a little shyer his talent is unquestioned, few see the game as clearly as him. There is a subtlety to his play that allows his contribution to be overlooked. In these heady times of Opta stats at your fingertips and Youtube compilations, casual onlookers will be hard pressed to spot Carrick’s worth. Put bluntly, his style lacks flamboyance in favour of forward thinking.

Yes, he wears number 16 but you will not find him hurtling into bone crunching tackles. He prefers the cheeky interception and a simple offloading pass which is now the staple of many midfielders. His fellow players appreciate his methods, as Rio Ferdinand attests. He said: “Intercepting is far more effective than tackling.

“It’s not as flashy, so often it goes unnoticed. Michael Carrick hardly ever launches into a slide tackle or gets involved in a physical battle.

That lands him some stick. But his stats for interceptions are off the chart.”

Granted, his understated play renders him as a foolish acquisition for many fantasy football teams. While he may not top assist charts, he can usually be found playing the telling pass that leads to a goal, a telling contribution that does not accumulate points towards a weekly total. That offering does not have to be the final through ball but the crucial exchange that gets a move started and opens up space.

The skill is in the delivery to feet; for the pass to come off it has to be discreet, accurate and played where the recipient wants it. Notice how he regularly bypasses midfield to find a runner in dangerous space. For some reason, he is deemed as cowardly in possession yet this is one of the most difficult passes to pull off and he does it game after game.

One of the criticisms thrown at him is his wastefulness when in possession. Yes, he may lack the physicality to shield the ball from more aggressive opponents yet most of the time his astute reading of the game renders this so called feebleness as irrelevant. Why bulldoze past opponents when a forward pass is even more effective?

He also brings a calmness to United’s midfield and a nerve that his doubters fail to spot. For example, watch his assist for Javier Hernandez’s winner against Newcastle United.

 

To the untrained eye, this could appear to be an aimless cross as the clock runs down yet those who understand the game can see the beauty and the intricate thought process with which the pass was played. Carrick can see the space behind Newcastle’s centre-backs and plays the ball to the spot just beyond Tim Krul’s reach but just where Hernandez can reach it for a first time finish. He also displays an understanding of the players around him in knowing that the Mexican will be playing on the last man and thus likely to lose his marker and arrive at the spot where the ball will drop. To execute this pass takes a modicum of courage and ability, to attempt it for a last-minute winner takes some balls.

To the naysayers, I put the case forward for Michael Carrick as one of the main reasons for four league titles and a European Cup in six seasons. As a leader in the new breed of midfielder it is his poise, forward passing and reading of the game that deems his inclusion as indispensable.

To those who call him cowardly, I call him courageous.

For those who doubt his cojones, I ask them to look at a player who will continue to play ambitious forward passes until the final whistle.

For the doubters. I assert that Michael Carrick is not holding the team back, he is in fact one of the main reasons for United’s recent success.

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14 comments

Matt 01/10/2013 - 13:18

@Absolute Rubbish, how many people do you know in Manchester? Born and raised in Manchester and I can assure YOU he’s well thought of. This is the problem with Carrick neysayers, they can’t articulate a logical argument why he’s so terrible. And why does being from Manchester make any difference to your judgement of a player?

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Juan 01/10/2013 - 06:39

You might want to check tweeter out. Javier Hernandez (the REAL, ACTUAL Javier Hernandez) just retweeted this article to all his followers!!

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Absolute rubbish!!! 01/09/2013 - 17:35

Garbage!!!!!! He’s a clueless, Joe average!! less cojones than me grandma, most of the time he panics and unloads the ball, His marking of opponnents is woe-ful. Get rid!!!! Carrick lovers how you find so many????? Very few in Manchester, i can assure you..

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bisi 01/09/2013 - 16:19

Brilliant article on carrick…his being very vital to the team

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Vivek 01/09/2013 - 15:31

Hes been a revelation this season and last.At one time he did hold back play with his side passes.And always looked to pass it to scholesy to do all the work.Now he feels more in his zone.He gets the ball more and is the distributer in midfield.Brilliant line about him needing fresh young legs around him. The united faithful love and cherish carricks presence.

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Simon 01/09/2013 - 15:25

I’ve always felt that getting Carrick was the key to Utd winning the league back in 2007. Vastly under-rated player.
I feel he is past his best though. His lack of mobility is an issue against opponents who press aggressively up the pitch. Utd have struggled to control games in Europe in the last 2 seasons as the trend towards high pressing has grown.
Carrick can struggle to retain possession under pressure as he is predominantly a lateral passer and isn’t a gifted dribbler. Having said that he is still the best defensive midfielder in the squad.

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muliadi 01/09/2013 - 14:42

Carrick would be the 1st player i pick in my United line up this season he is a great midfielder with his positioning and reading of the game… Most often than not when he got the possession of the ball he doesn’t have the option to pass it forward, he reads the game so well that his own team wasn’t always ready to position themselves in the attacking mode… The only option for him is to pass sideways or backwards… He has another option though, he could have dribble the ball more when in possession of the ball than spray the ball forward like he did when he pass the ball to Hernandez… He had tried dribbling the ball more often since last season and that is the slight improvement we had seen… I still prefer him to play upper up the field with a more robust and dynamic partner in a deeper midfield role so as to ease the need for him to dribble pass the opponent before passing the ball forward… He is one hell of a midfielder but i think we can utilise his talent more by moving him upper up the field… He certainly isn’t a complete midfielder though and unfortunatelly that is what we crave for our midfield… It isn’t fair for him to be compared with Keano or Scholesy but i understand that we always give more value to a more courageous individual and they are both courageous as hell… But, i think Carrick has tried to show his courageousness during these last two seasons so please give him more time to improve which i think he will…

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Paul Van Schoor 01/09/2013 - 14:35

Brilliant!

@Ozzi:
Carrick > Owen Hargo (Always)

#YMCMB
Young Money Carrick Money Bitches

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Ben 01/09/2013 - 13:25

I am a big admirer of Michael Carrick and agree that he has played very well this season. Of course, he’s had spells during his career at United where he hasn’t reached these standards – but overall he’s been a very consistent performer – nearly always retaining possession for the team and often picking incisive forward passes.

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Snoop dogg 01/09/2013 - 13:21

I was addressing some crips and bloods in LA yesterday and the question of Micheal carrick came up…personally I rate carrick highly..people ignore the games where he is the difference and yet when he has an average game and we lose he gets the blame..it’s because he doesn’t fit the English idea of the snarling hairy chested central midfielder who tackles people’s shins..actually carrick as done exceptionally seeing as he has carried our midfield..he has never had a world class partner in his prime as a partner..he has either played with ageing players giggs scholes etc..or average players like fletcher..it’s no shock to me that now cleverly and Anderson have emerged carricks true form is more evident..cleverlys energy allows carrick to his passing and guile..

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Gaz 01/09/2013 - 13:15

While I think you’re somewhat overstating Carrick’s desire to play a forward pass, there’s no doubt for the last season and a half, he has come into his own as a stalwart of the team and his performances have generally been excellent. I personally think his tendency is too often to play sideways or backwards – which isn’t untypical of British center midfielders – rather than look to penetrate quickly and this can be a source of frustration for me. That said, it has become the Utd way and is an indication of the patience we have in possession and our belief that we will eventually create a scoring opportunity. Part of me still longs for something a little less “vanilla” than Carrick in the heart of our team but no doubt, his consistency in recent times has been a key to our success.

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Lovy 01/09/2013 - 13:09

Really very good post.

Michael Carrick is as important to us as Sergio Busquets is for Barcelona.

He thrives when playing alongside Cleverley, Ando and Kagawa. He needs young legs that can run around him.

He’s our best defensive midfielder and has contributed a lot in our success.

Wonderful,Classy and gutsy Player for his forward passes!

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Ozzi 01/09/2013 - 12:30

The only complaint i have of him is that he isn’t world class. He’s a very good player. Who would you prefer Owen Hargo or Carrick in that position??

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Dan 01/09/2013 - 12:04

Brilliant article. I do find his lack of physicality frustrating because I admired Roy Keane’s commitment so much. But, he is a brilliant and insightful player. With Anderson fit to provide a bit of spark we have a good core to the midfield that is amply supplemented by experience and creativity in the rotation of the other midfielders. I think it’s time to start building the defence a bit…I’d like to see us have at least two players of the Vidic/Stam mould continually fit. Enjoy your time down here in Oz cobber!

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