Many of the club’s fans do not rate him, opposition fans mock him, most pundits fail to spot his brilliance, and Roy Hodgson rates Jordan Henderson higher than him. Yes, Michael Carrick is one of the most underrated footballers in the Barclays Premier League.
Expectations were sky high for a player signed following the departure of Roy Keane and being given the latter’s old shirt number. Few people had heard of Carrick at the time. He hardly featured in fantasy teams, and rarely grabbed the headlines prior to his move to Manchester.
Despite winning titles with Manchester United and having played the full 120 minutes at Moscow against Chelsea, fans and critics never recognised his ability and often termed him as an expensive squad player. His performance against Barcelona in Rome didn’t help his cause either though critics conveniently forget the pressing and ball retention qualities of the opposition on that night.
Many are also misguided by a pre-conceived notion that Carrick’s role was to provide defence splitting passes and numerous assists. He is often criticised for passing the ball sideways or backwards. Fact of the matter is that even statistics contradict this opinion. In the current season, prior to the home game against Newcastle, Carrick had played the most number of forward passes (525) in the Premier League (Source: whoscored.com).
Carrick’s playing style can be compared to that of Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso. Their contribution might not be visibly tangible at times, but their absence can be felt. A great example of this was the recent game against Sunderland where United’s purposeful play disappeared following Carrick’s substitution after the first half. Most fans struggle to recognise the importance of ball retention and having to occasionally slow down the tempo by playing an extra pass or two rather than playing the ‘Hollywood pass’. Moreover, with United’s preference for wing play, it makes sense to move the ball sidewards.
He’s been at the heart of all good things stemming from Manchester United’s midfield this season. His passing percentage across all games this season stands at 92% (Source: whoscored.com), and he combines well with a mobile partner like Cleverly or Anderson. On boxing day’s humdinger against Newcastle United, Carrick was able to play with more adventure once Cleverly came on, and resulted in assisting two goals.
It’s not just the passing statistics though that warrants accolades but his positioning awareness and ability to gracefully shield the defence which often goes unnoticed.
This is why Sir Alex Ferguson recognises his importance and has made him a regular starter over the last two seasons. Rather than the player he was brought in to replace, Carrick is more like Paul Scholes, quietly getting on with his business and not bothered by the attention others get, or the lack of praise directed towards him.
With Michael Carrick, you get what’s on the tin. There are no tiny disclaimers to worry about. Sir Alex is assured that Carrick will continue to be reliable and dependable, and man the engine room effectively. It is high time that the doubters and sceptics be assured too.