To paraphrase Henry B. Adams, it might be impossible to underrate human intelligence, but it’s definitely possible to underrate footballing intelligence, particularly the one that Michael Carrick has abundantly shown since joining Manchester United.
The 31-year-old might be about to finally receive some recognition for his individual efforts, after being shortlisted for the PFA’s Footballer of the Year Award alongside Gareth Bale, Eden Hazard, Juan Mata, Luis Suarez and last season’s winner Robin Van Persie.
Of the players shortlisted, Carrick is definitely the one less likely to get fans off their seats for he doesn’t produce lung-bursting cavalcades through the pitch like Gareth Bale, nor he’s a goal machine like his team-mate Van Persie or has the continental flair of Hazard and Mata.
While all of those players would be defined as consistently brilliant, Carrick falls into the brilliantly consistent category, something that has somewhat caused him to be overlooked by the public, as they have failed to realise that a player so consistent at such a high level must therefore be a rather brilliant one too.
Despite winning four league titles, a European Cup and appearing in other two Champions League finals, Carrick’s career at United has always been under intense scrutiny – his number 16 shirt was often portrayed as a burden – as journalists and fans alike simply refused to believe that he could be at the same brilliant, and yet not the player they had expected him to be.
When Carrick signed from Tottenham Hotspur in the summer of 2006, United were about to come out from one of their darkest moments in recent times. Chelsea’s ruthless machine showed no sign of slowing down and a mixture of players either too raw or simply not good enough had fans and pundits wondering if United could rise to challenge, particularly after their midfield general for over a decade had departed in acrimonious fashion at the end of 2005.
Those who expected a new Roy Keane were soon to be disappointed for Michael Carrick isn’t, and was never going to be, a Geordie reincarnation of the man from Cork. While Keane commanded games brutally, grasping them by the scruff of their necks, Carrick’s eye for a pass and superb sense of position allow him to dictate the tempo of matches without even staining his shorts.
After United were twice put to the sword by Barcelona within three seasons, Carrick became an increasingly obvious choice for those desperately seeking a scapegoat to blame for United’s shortcomings, as the former Spurs man’s role on the pitch was completely misinterpreted by large sections of United supporters.
To some Carrick wasn’t the Roy Keanesque figure they had craved, to others his paltry goal return was an indication that he was not as good as Frank Lampard or Steven Gerrard, while many bemoaned his lack of physicality when compared to Yaya Toure’s. Those who understands the game, though, did instead see what Premier League teams have realised this year.
Carrick is a superbly accomplished midfielder, with a range of passing and sense of position second to none, who has been hampered by the lack of a competitive partner alongside him throughout his United career – apart from Paul Scholes and Darren Fletcher.
Furthermore this year, Carrick has not only been starved of an established partner in midfield, he has also had to negotiate a season during which form has deserted every winger at the club, therefore reducing his options and yet, for those who think football can be explained with numbers, he’s completed 88.3% of the passes he attempted during his 30 league appearances this season.
Despite what the terrace chant might want us to believe, it isn’t that hard to believe that he’s not Scholes, but Michael Carrick’s composure and vision have been immensely important for Manchester United this season. Should United win a record 20th league title, it’ll be hard to find a player who deserves more credit than Michael Carrick.
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