When the PFA Player of the Year shortlist was announced it was no surprise to see the likes of Gareth Bale, Luis Suarez and Robin van Persie among the nominees, but the Manchester United striker was joined in contention for the award by a quite unlikely teammate – Michael Carrick.
The England international looked slightly out of place on a list that boasted the three top goalscorers in the league, plus Hazard and Mata, two of the most exciting young attacking prospects in the European game, yet for Michael Carrick, his inclusion in such an illustrious list could not be more justified. Despite a wealth of accomplishments at Manchester United, his time with the club has not quite yielded the personal accolades he deserves. Until now.
When he joined back in 2006 he filled a void left by departing club captain and Stretford Eng legend, Roy Keane, and despite his obvious talents it was going to be some role he’d have to fulfil. Clearly, judging by the continued tradition of success the club has enjoyed post-Keane, he has fulfilled the role admirably, but it still hasn’t deflected accusations of pedestrianism. He doesn’t quite fit into the archetypal centre-midfield roles recognised by the modern era: he isn’t your dynamic, tough-tackling hard-nut holding midfielder; yet nor is he your flamboyant creative midfielder. Instead, what Michael Carrick is, is simply the heartbeat, the engine room of this current Manchester United side.
There is a reason he is amongst such elite players on the PFA Player of the Year shortlist and that’s because he has been integral to Manchester United’s regaining of the Premier League title. Sure, Robin van Persie has contributed a titanic effort with the sheer of amount of goals he has scored, but Carrick’s importance to the team is far more subtle. Everyone notices the goal scorers, and rightly so, goals win games after all, but even the best goal scorers need a foundation to work from, and Michael Carrick is the platform around which United have played.
Manchester United have dismantled teams so decisively this season thanks to their ability to move the ball forward at astonishing pace; they have transitioned from defence to attack in a matter of a few slick, incisive moves, most of which are architected by a certain Mr. Carrick. Take a look at his pass completion for forward passes: it stands at 82.4%, well above the average percentage for Premier League midfielders of 72.8%. Simply put, Carrick’s near-faultless distribution has allowed United to break quickly and often fatally.
He is the hinge, the pivot, the fulcrum – whichever term you deem appropriate – on which the side operates, as he cleans up balls in and around the eighteen yard box and redistributes the play accordingly. He has completed an admirable 2501 passes to date this season, more than any other player in the league, and this just goes to highlight the dependability of the man. You don’t with football games without the ball, it’s that simple, and in Carrick, United have a man who denies the opposition the chance to exercise that very simple philosophy.
What he lacks in goals and assists he more than makes up for in his importance to the functionality of the team as a whole. He is an excellent reader of the game and does not rely on his endless stamina or ferocious tackling ability to dominate the centre of the park. While United could still benefit from a midfield general to assist Carrick when the midfield is flooded, Carrick is still very capable of dictating the play of a game at his whim. His positional ability and reading of the game are excellent and allow him to develop the play from there. Not only has he the most completed passes in the United side, he also holds the most interceptions.
It is very easy to get drawn into the allure of exciting attacking players and appoint accolade for goals scored; equally so it is easy to applaud a ‘for-the-camera’ save or a last-ditch sliding tackle. But these are just moments in a game. Carrick’s influence on matches this season has been prolonged and consistent. He averages 73.3 passes a game compared to the average of 37.7 and this just serves the highlight the effect he has over the course of a match; it is sustained and that’s exactly what it needs to be. He is the heartbeat of this current United side.
When people comment that this United side hasn’t been a classic, and in many ways it hasn’t, these observations just further the argument in support of the team’s debt of gratitude to Carrick. Without him, the side would not have that spine – formed of De Gea, Vidic, Carrick and van Persie – that has served them so well in games, and out of those four, Carrick has been the one who has been so dependable. When van Persie struck his goal drought for nine games, the rest of the team shared the goal scoring burden; when Vidic was injured, Ferdinand, Jones and Evans performed excellent in his stead. But at no point has Carrick been absent from the team through injury or the simple need to rest – he is far too integral.
In a week where the world’s two superstars, Ronaldo and Messi, went missing in the biggest games of the season so far, it would be prudent to recognise the achievements and talents of one of the unsung heroes of the sport. There are few goals, yet alone spectacular ones, no step-overs and no rampaging runs taking four defenders with him, but there is an assurance and ability to dictate the pace of an entire match through a wonderful complement of awareness, composure and criminally undervalued passing range.
Carrick is a man who is never rushed on the football pitch, no matter how great the pressure around him, and he undertakes his role with the minimum of elaborateness. For one, it would be a fitting tribute to his game to realise what a slow ascent to widespread recognition he has undergone; never rushed, but fully deserving.