By Steve Williams
Tall, two-footed, great first touch, fantastic range of passing, positionally exceptional, and does a fantastic job of screening the back four.
If you said that list of attributes to any club manager in world football they would be screaming at you demanding to find out who he is, yet because his name happens to be “Michael Carrick”, he is unbelievably underrated.
The sheer fact that the majority of English fans, and even a large number of United fans, question his ability and value to the team genuinely astounds me. Sir Alex Ferguson paid £18m for his services, picks him on a regular basis and starts him in two Champions League finals against arguably the greatest club side of all time. Surely this is reason enough to quell any doubts over his quality as a player?
Any player who makes over 300 Premier League appearances, in addition to 50 in the Champions League, surely deserves more credit. He may not be as quick as Iniesta, as strong as Essien or as potent as Sneijder but his reading of the game and his intelligence on where to position himself both with and without possession is as good as any in the game.
Many so-called United fans prefer to criticise Carrick for his lack of bite and drive but for me that is what sets him apart from other midfielders. So many times you will see the likes of Steven Gerrard or Scott Parker go flying into a tackle by the sidelines, throwing themselves at the ball to only give away a foul or result in putting the ball out of play and the crowed drools over their “manliness”.
Carrick, however, will just nonchalantly jockey the player, stick a foot in and regain possession or just simply stop that player from advancing further down the pitch. The end effect is the same, if not better, yet because the stereotypical English player would use more aggression it is unfairly seen as a weakness in his game.
For years, people have been saying how the Brazilians, Spaniards and Portuguese are far more technically gifted and how we need that style of play in the English game yet they seem to overlook Carrick time and time again, as shown when the likes of Lampard, Gerrard and Barry have been picked over him for the National side. This thrills me because England’s loss is most definitely United’s gain!
I believe Carrick could even play for the likes of Barcelona, he has the vision and passing range of his Spanish counterparts such as Xavi and Xabi Alonso – you never see those two criticised for not making crunching challenges or not scoring enough goals. It is the typical narrow-mindedness of the English supporter to pigeonhole every central midfielder as having the same role, despite the fact the game has developed so far that we now have defensive midfielders, box-to-box players, midfield destroyers used to break up play, the free-role for flair players etc. Therefore you cannot compare the likes of Carrick, Gerrard, Pastore, Gattuso in one category and slate him for not having some of the qualities of those types of players!
If you watch the way United play, many times our centre-backs will have possession and Carrick will ALWAYS be available for a pass, many times he will just pass the ball to the other centre-back to create a triangle, yet this is so effective as it is making the opposing striker do a lot of shutting down and also drawing the opposition team further up the field and creating spaces for the more advanced players to move into. This is something most Carrick-haters won’t see as they are too impatient and blinkered to understand the job he is doing – I can imagine Sir Alex encourages this style of play as many teams play deep against us, especially at Old Trafford.
It is sometimes said that Carrick shirks the defensive duties yet he just goes about his business in a different style, screening the back four so that the ball cannot be played into the strikers feet and reducing the amount of space a player who plays “in the hole” has to work with, such as a David Silva. A few seasons back, when United played Inter in the Champions League, the Italian press marvelled at his performance the next day, referring to him as “Magnifico” and labelling his style of play as perfectly Italian. Not bad for a player who supposedly ‘hides against the big sides’ and ‘always gives the ball away’.
The modern game heavily relies on ball retention, and having the ability to not always look for the Hollywood ball but to keep the other team chasing the ball and patiently waiting for the right time to slip through that killer pass. It may not be Carrick that eventually makes that pass but you can guarantee he’s been involved in the basic build-up play prior to it being played.
Michael Carrick just goes about his business quietly, doesn’t moan about being left out of the side, is never in the tabloids for the wrong reasons and is an extremely consistent player. I think his class almost sets him up for a downfall as he rarely makes a mistake but when he does it’s jumped on by fans and press alike. I have never, and will never criticise a player who plays the game as it should be played, and loves playing for United. This is why Michael Carrick is my favourite footballer.
Writen by Steve Williams.