Saturday 24 August 2019

Underappreciated Carrick the battery in United's watch

Michael Carrick has been a key part of Manchester United’s recent resurgence. Photo: Oli Scarff/Getty Images
Michael Carrick has been a key part of Manchester United’s recent resurgence. Photo: Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Comment: Jim White

Steven Gerrard has now retired, Frank Lampard is pondering life beyond New York and Paul Scholes is reinvented in punditry with a bluntness that stands in welcome contrast to his subtlety as a player.

It is also two seasons since any of this gilded trio graced English football and yet they still somehow seem more visible than a player delivering quietly emphatic reminders of his place among the finest central midfielders of the Premier League era.

Now 35, it is extraordinary to think that a debate still rages about Michael Carrick's obvious - and ongoing status - as England's outstanding holding player. Alex Ferguson previously suggested that Carrick had suffered against what he called Lampard and Gerrard's "bravado" and, even at this late stage of his career, it will be fascinating next year to see if Gareth Southgate becomes the latest in a series of England managers to overlook his talents.

It is certainly odd to think that, despite having played in three Champions League finals and won two more Premier League titles than Lampard and Gerrard put together, Carrick has actually won 186 fewer caps than his two more illustrious former England team-mates.

Equally startling is how players like Gareth Barry, Scott Parker, Fabian Delph, James Milner, Jordan Henderson, Jack Wilshere, Phil Jones and Owen Hargreaves were often preferred in front of an England defence.

Convincing

After one of United's most convincing performances of the season in beating West Bromwich Albion 2-0 on Saturday, Carrick has now started 13 matches in all competitions in 2016-17 and been part of 11 wins and two draws.

Similar stats were flying around under Louis van Gaal last year when United's win percentage surged from 35 per cent to more than 70 per cent with Carrick starting. The statistics, though, are still less convincing that the anecdotal testimony.

Xavi, no less, described him as the "complete" midfielder. Scholes, who also had the luxury of more than a decade alongside Roy Keane, clearly did not find Carrick a step down. "He doesn't hit Hollywood passes, he doesn't score lots of goals," he said. "But he was always in the right place. He gave me licence to play."

It is easy now to sense that Paul Pogba is increasingly experiencing something similar. Carrick has been underappreciated precisely because his greatest quality rests in inspiring the best from others. He is not an authoritative or combative midfielder in the style of Gerrard or a goalscorer in the image of Lampard. What he does offer, however, is something that is often more important. It is control.

It is the discipline to maintain his position on the pitch, the vision to read the game and so make that crucial interception or simple pass.

Manchester United have spent £500 million and recruited enough new players to field two teams since Ferguson departed in 2013. The correlation, then, between their upturn in form and the return of Carrick might also say much about an extravagantly flawed transfer policy but should at least finally settle an old argument about his vast importance to the team. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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