Farewell, Michael Carrick. Thank you for the memories!
Michael Carrick played his 464th and final match for Manchester United against Watford at Old Trafford yesterday. It marked the end of Ferguson's "golden generation" as the former Hammer hung his boots in front of his home crowds.
Carrick walked out to a guard of honor and left the pitch in the 85th minute to a standing ovation from the Old Trafford faithful but not before giving them one more moment of quality. The midfielder rolled back the years as he produced a pinpoint long-range ball to Juan Mata who then teed up Marcus Rashford for their only goal of the match. Between heart problems and declining mobility, he was a bit-part player for the last couple of years at United. Prior to his final match, Carrick had barely been seen this season- he’d played a meager 24 Premier League minutes (in a defeat at hometown club Newcastle) and made 3 cup appearances.
He came and fortunes turned
He joined United from Spurs in 2006, at a time when the Red Devils were in a bit of a shambles. They had gone 3 years without a league title, the longest barren run in the Premier League under Sir Alex Ferguson, and they finished bottom of their Champions League group.
Carrick was the only permanent signing that year for £18 million. It raised a few eyebrows initially but turned out to be a master class as United claimed a hat-trick of league titles in next 3 years.
Of course, they had the rampaging Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney to thank, however, it was the new recruit ‘Carra’ (as he is fondly called at United) who led the supply line. There was a time during those 3 glory years when virtually every United attack could be traced back to a certain Carrick pass or interception.
It is a common perception in English football that Arsenal never quite replaced Patrick Vieira but in Carrick, Manchester United found the perfect replacement of their long-standing captain Roy Keane.
He wasn’t a tough tackler like Keane. He wasn’t a box-to-box player either. A simple analysis of his play would propound that he was a remarkably gifted passer, often meticulous and methodical with his distribution. His sense of positioning was superb, his game-awareness exceptional. His playmaking skills and crossing ability added to his importance in dictating the tempo of the game as well as initiating attacks.
Ferguson, Carrick and Possession Football
Ferguson's influence in his career was quite obvious. Upon his arrival, the great man deployed him in a holding role in midfield alongside Paul Scholes who played as a deep-seated playmaker. This midfield partnership ushered in a continental style of football based on passing and keeping possession in contrast to the traditionally direct style of English Football.
He was one of the few constants throughout that seven-year period of success between 2006 and 2013 for United. Fair to say, he was to Manchester United what Lampard and Gerrard were to Chelsea and Liverpool respectively. Not in terms of goals and assists of course, but he was undoubtedly a crucial part of United’s abiding success.
Eclipsed with England
For a stellar club career spanning over 18 years, Carrick was never an England regular. He played just 34 times for his country between his debut in 2001 and his last cap in 2015. He was largely overlooked by all the England managers during that period partly because of his unassuming style of play and partly due to the dominance of two all-action star players in England's midfield, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard who won 220 caps between them.
Numbers don't do justice to his craft
Since joining United Carrick had scored just 17 goals and provided 21 assists in his 31 league games. His overall career tally read an underwhelming 24 goals and 40 assists from 481 league appearance. These low attacking numbers were perhaps down to the fact that Carrick played a majority of his career in a holding midfield position.
He's an authoritative voice in the dressing room and not averse to speaking his mind. It was his half-time intervention at the Etihad Stadium that inspired a fightback as United came from behind to beat Manchester City 3-2 in the end.
Apart from being an increasingly influential figure, he is an astute reader of the game too, which is why Mourinho handed him a role in his coaching staff for next season.
At a time when United are stuck in a midfield muddle, they would give everything to have another Carrick to guide them through.
Farewell, Michael Carrick. Thank you for the memories.