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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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