Michael Carrick has expressed his relief after making a long-awaited return for Manchester United during their 4-0 win over Yeovil Town in the FA Cup.
The captain’s last outing came against Burton Albion in September and has been sidelined ever since after undergoing a cardiac ablation a few weeks after the game.
But after training with the first team squad for a few weeks the 36-year-old, who will assume a coaching role under Jose Mourinho next season, was handed a place in the starting XI at Huish Park and delivered a typically measured, metronomic display at the base of midfield.
Speaking after the game, Carrick admitted that the time spent on the sidelines since September had been extremely difficult but was clearly delighted at having finally made a successful return.
“It’s great to be back, it’s been a very long time, it’s been a very frustrating year,” he said. “Not a great season up to now but considering where I was after the Burton game for the few weeks when I had the heart problems to be back out was great and a little bit strange before the game after being out for so long but it was great to be back out with the boys.”
“I’m fine now. I’ve been back training for a number of weeks, obviously not fully match fit, obviously takes a little bit longer when you get older, but I feel fine and healthy and no problems at all.
“There so tricky these type of games you don’t really have anything to gain. I know it’s going through to the next round but you’re on to a loser really so it’s important the attitude and mentality is right. And I thought we did that. Obviously it’s difficult to play on the pitch but it’s not really an excuse. I thought the first half was tough but the second half was a lot more comfortable.
“Sanchez isn’t too bad for a little man. He’s going to be a terrific player, a proper Man United player, it’s great to have him here, so exciting. Dynamic, always looking for opportunities to play it forward and the fans are going to enjoy watching him and hopefully we will enjoy playing with him.
“All of a sudden at the moment most of the squad is fit and hopefully that stays the same because this is when things really kick in to gear. We need as many options and as players as we can because hopefully the games will be coming thick and fast.
“It’s a good sign, and this is the business end of the season when we want to be in with a shout.
“I was willing him (Angel Gomes) to score, he’s done great. He stands people up and goes past them, he will probably be a bit annoyed that he’s hit the side netting but he’s done fantastic.
“It’s great to see the young lads come through and get a chance. He was training with us this week and he did really well.”
To be on the sidelines for an extended period of time as a 26-year-old is annoying; for a 36-year-old, however, it can often be terminal.
The last few months would have been hellish for Carrick, a vital presence in the dressing room, but his return ahead of the business end of the campaign reflects the steeliness that has always been there at his core, a kind of inner anchor that fuels the anchoring presence he has on the pitch.
Supporters will just hope the Englishman remains fit during the final few months of his playing career. He is simply too valuable, too United through and through, to not have in the squad.