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Inside FutbolInside Futbol


“Glue Guy” Michael Carrick Sticking Together Man Utd Title Charge

Players with West Ham connections have received plenty of attention over the past few weeks, from speculation over Frank Lampard’s future at Chelsea (despite a string of outstanding recent displays) to Joe Cole’s much-hyped return to the club that put him on the map. It must bring back a range of memories for Hammers fans from that proud period of their history.

But another man who graced Upton Park back then tends to generate very little attention these days – and that’s the way he likes it. Michael Carrick teamed up with Lampard and Cole in one of the most thrilling, youthful midfields that the Premier League has ever seen. Even back then, he was the forgotten man or at least unsung hero of the talented trio.

Carrick has grown rather familiar with others dominating the spotlight. Even after leaving East London, he has been viewed as a solid performer rather than a star. At Tottenham, his contributions were often overshadowed by Jermain Defoe, Robbie Keane and even Edgar Davids as the club came agonisingly close to a Champions League spot.

But Carrick’s ability did not escape Sir Alex Ferguson’s notice as Manchester United swooped with a whopping £18M bid. It seemed a lot at the time and there were plenty who felt Manchester United were overrating the midfielder’s potential. And there was some truth to that – he was unproven on the biggest stage and his CV did not suggest that he fitted the price tag.

Again, the midfielder quickly slipped into the background, with Cristiano Ronaldo making the leap from skilful magician to consistent match-winner and Wayne Rooney blossoming alongside him. The midfield accolades were more readily handed out to the evergreen Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs. Carrick had to be content with assessments like "steady" and "solid".

The trend continued at international level, with Lampard and Steven Gerrard automatic selections, meaning Carrick never truly got a run in the team. Owen Hargreaves passed him by, as did Gareth Barry. Pick any Premier League weekend, watch Manchester United and Manchester City games and see whether Barry or Carrick has the bigger impact on their team. It is a safe bet that it will be Carrick.

And so, suddenly, things have been flipped. Carrick’s quality had been ignored to such an extent that he has jumped from the overrated bucket to a genuinely underrated player. That’s the deceptive thing about Carrick. He is not the best tackler or the best in the air. He is not the quickest, the most skilful or a clinical finisher in front of goal. Aside from his impressive range of passing, at first glance there are few other standout elements to his game. But take him out of the Manchester United line-up and his presence is sorely missed.

Make no mistake, Ferguson has the utmost faith in him, in part seeing no great rush to overhaul his midfield options because of his belief in Carrick. His ability to control the tempo of a game through careful ball retention is a key factor for Manchester United. His positioning is instinctive, overriding concerns over his tackling, and he has mastered the art of "quarterbacking" the side from his deep-lying midfield position. Game-planning for opposition teams facing Manchester United often focuses on how to limit Carrick’s influence.

Clearly, to fully appreciate what he brings to the table, he has to be seen in action day in, day out.

"I think Carrick is the key [to this season]", Ferguson said over the summer. "Michael can read the game and also play in front of the back four. In the modern day game, you don’t need tacklers the same way you used to. There’s no call for it. It’s all about anticipation and reading the game."

And the Manchester United fans, previously sceptical about Carrick as a first-team regular in a title-chasing team, have embraced the 31-year-old. While the belief remains that Ferguson needs to sign another proven midfielder, Carrick has emerged as a glue guy and a security blanket. He has shown composure in big games time and again, and when he is on song, Manchester United are extremely tough to beat.

But Carrick has never needed the plaudits – flying under the radar suits him just fine. However, if Manchester United end up lifting silverware in May, it may be time to re-evaluate the midfielder once again.

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