News that Michael Carrick has been handed a new three year deal at Old Trafford will have been met with a mixture of relief and despair by United fans.
You’d be hard pressed to find a more divisive figure at United than the former Spurs midfielder. To some he’s the unsung hero, the integral cog, that once removed stops the entire machine from working. To others he’s a luxury we can’t afford, a traffic cone stuck in front of the defence which serves little or no purpose other than making Darren Fletcher and Paul Scholes look good.
Part of the problem with Carrick’s popularity at United- or lack of it is his playing style. Fletcher, Hargreaves and even Anderson have all enjoyed hearing their names sung around Old Trafford a lot more than Carrick. It appears he may have suffered with comparisons to some of his more physical teammates. Hargreaves, before his injuries obviously, was one of the most fearless players to don a United shirt since Roy Keane left, his energy also seemed to galvanise the team.
Anderson’s faults were excused by his youth, and his efforts received some would argue, slightly more praise than they’ve really warranted. Fletcher was in danger of becoming United’s midfield golden boy after years of uncertainty as to whether he was good enough. Although his often sub standard performances this season have gone some way to dimming the luster of his halo. All three players possess a certain aggressive ‘get stuck in’ nature that fans warm to more than the controlled creator that Carrick embodies.
It seems that ever since Carrick arrived at United he’s been fighting to prove that he’s truly good enough to be there. This is all the more remarkable when you look at his record since he’s arrived. Three league titles, a champions league winners’ medal, and a runners up one is hardly the rewards of an underachiever. From the start though Carrick seems to have always had his detractors, quick to praise his midfield partners rather than the man himself.
Carrick has been criticised for everything from not being an England regular- never seemed to bother Steve Bruce- to not scoring enough goals-a criticism even Beckham used to receive at one point- to going missing when the team is struggling- although surely he’s not alone if the ‘team’ are struggling. It seems many can forget or simply ignore the fact that Carrick is one of the best passers of the ball not only at Old Trafford but anywhere in the Premiership and can often dictate the pace of a game, which comes in particularly useful when your defending a narrow lead against an aggressive team and need someone to take the sting out of it.
Therein lies part of the problem with Carrick, his critics- of which there are many, use his passing against him, asking the question ‘why doesn’t he pass it forward more often?’ This criticism does have some merit particularly when you see Carrick and Paul Scholes in similar positions with the latter always looking for the opportunity to move the ball forward while the former seems content to simply keep possession.
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Another reason many fans aren’t too enamoured of Carrick is due to the poor spell he endured towards the end of last season which culminated in his part in the loss to Bayern Munich at Old Trafford. At the end of April last year I wrote the following in an article entitled “What has happened to Michael Carrick?”:
“Going into the Bayern game Carrick was coming off the back of a rather poor display against Liverpool in the league. It was his lack of composure, some may even call it dilly-dallying- I do like that word- that had led to Fernando Torres’s opener. That would have turned almost every United fan who’s at times questioned Carrick’s real value, totally against the Geordie if it weren’t for the fact that Ji-Sung Park and Wayne Rooney turned the game on its head.
Carrick hasn’t just underperformed in those games, going back a few weeks further to Wolves away, in the final few moments of the match a poor clearance by him had almost led to an equalizer for the midlands team. If it was not for Sam Vokes’s woefulness in front of goal then United would have dropped two valuable points and now be out of the title race.
“It seems at a time when United need a man who has won the title every season he’s been at Old Trafford to step up, he’s suddenly started to fall to pieces. Saturday’s game against Spurs was a case in point. When Carrick replaced Antonio Valencia on the hour mark, the bloke in the seat next to me turned and said: “I hope he’s not gonna throw this away,” two minutes later Ledley King rose above him, without much difficulty and headed in an equaliser.
For whatever reason, Carrick has gone from a composed, midfield conductor to a panicky, weak, lightweight with a liking for dilly-dallying in the space of a few weeks.”
At the beginning of this season it seemed that Sir Alex Ferguson no longer viewed Carrick as the vital first team cog he once had and the midfielder had to wait a few weeks for his first Premier League start. Since then though, Carrick’s enjoyed something of a renaissance, becoming one of the most used midfielders at the club.
Even the likes of Scholes and Fletcher seemed to be rested more than Carrick who’s now almost guaranteed to start every game when fit. I say ‘almost’ of course as in the Manchester derby, Ferguson preferred Anderson to Carrick- arguably due to the latter’s poor showing away at Wolves- again.
Supporters of Carrick will no doubt have rejoiced at the news that he’s staying at the club for at least three more years, while his detractors will be lamenting the fact he’s not going to go away so they’re stuck with him.
Personally I think Carrick is a useful midfielder who on his day can be just as important as any member of the team. My only criticism of him is I’d like to see him use it more for attacking purposes. I know he’s now used a lot deeper than he was when he first arrived but no assists or goals all season is not good enough for a midfielder of his ability, especially when compared to how he’s performed in previous years.
Carrick may just have to fill the role of fall guy for some at United, the player who’s blameless if United win but the one to blame when they lose. I have a sneaky feeling that one day he may get the recognition he deserves of being a pretty good midfielder who happened to win quite a few trophies.