After 295 appearances in a Manchester United shirt since his arrival at Old Trafford in 2006, there’s nothing new about Michael Carrick’s presence in Sir Alex Ferguson’s midfield. But following the former Tottenham man’s rich run of form, judging by the way some are reacting, you wouldn’t have thought it.
As Carrick stroked the ball around with the usual panache and efficiency that he tends to do week in, week out in for his side during the 2-1 win against Liverpool during the weekend, Sky’s veteran commentator Martin Tyler could be heard waxing lyrical about the Wallsend-born midfielder.
“Surely the best season Carrick has enjoyed since arriving at Old Trafford,” was Tyler’s observation and it offered us the latest in a long line of gushing compliments that have been passed the 31-year-old’s way in recent weeks.
And make no mistake about it, Carrick’s performance against the men from Anfield was very much a microcosm for the season he’s been enjoying so far; calm, collected and efficient in possession, Carrick’s been the metronome within the Manchester United machine that currently finds itself sitting seven points clear at the top of the Premier League table, with less than half the season left to play.
Yet while Michael Carrick is undoubtedly enjoying a spell of games as mistake-free and effortlessly productive as he ever has in recent times, there seems something strikingly overzealous about the praise he’s currently been receiving from some quarters. Not because his performances haven’t been worthy of it – more to the point that his performances haven’t particularly differed from the usual hallmark of quality he usually tends to dish up at Old Trafford.
The sudden bandwagon of affection that’s found itself trailing behind Michael Carrick in recent weeks seems to offer a rather short-sighted perception of the legacy that he’s already been part of since his £18.6milion move nearly seven years ago now. It’s not as if the instinctive awareness of space and the effervescent range of passing that some are only now just witnessing is anything new. These skills have in fact formed part of the anchor for four Premier League titles, one Champions League win and a further two runs to the final of the competition.
In the years that have passed since his arrival, the only other constant to Carrick’s consistency and efficiency within the Manchester United midfield seems to have been a perpetual desire from some quarters for the purchase of a ‘world-class’ marquee midfielder. Yet since he’s been at the club, United have only failed to win the title twice during his six full seasons. And even then, one of those failures ended up going down on goal difference.
His gifts haven’t wavered in influence since he joined the club, only the hallowed perceptions of those warped by his performances in the failed Champions League encounters against Barcelona. In both Rome and Wembley, Carrick was outclassed by what Sir Alex Ferguson calls the ‘carousel’ of the Barca duo of both Xavi and Andres Iniesta.
Yet the footballing lesson that Carrick was handed out on those occasions was one that everyone from Xabi Alonso to Andrea Pirlo has received in recent times. Although unlike the galaxy of other elite central midfielders that have succumbed to the Barcelona duo’s ways, Carrick seemed to harness personal responsibility for events in both of those fixtures.
It led many to come to the tired conclusion that Carrick was ‘never the same player’ after the two Barcelona defeats. Yet if being outclassed by arguably one of the greatest club sides the game has ever seen made Carrick a ‘sub-par’ player, then he’s hardly in bad company. Judging him against the yardstick of Xavi and Iniesta was almost a warped comparison and if anything, he’s since gone on to become a better player.
This isn’t to necessarily herald Carrick as the complete midfielder and United’s No16 isn’t without his faults. Despite the nature of his role in Ferguson’s engine room, his continued failure to add goals to his game has been a perpetual frustration and although the same could be said for many players, a lack of confidence has had the tendency to really chastise some of his performances. Further still, whenever he’s been given the chance on the international stage, rarely have we seen him look anywhere near the player he has done at club level.
Yet although the Carrick we’re seeing at the moment is one in imperious form, the nuts and bolts of his game really aren’t that different to anything he’s previously brought to the United midfield. As per usual, his passing keeps the side ticking over and Manchester United keep on winning. The same equation as it usually has tended to be since 2006.
Maybe part of the praise that Michael Carrick is currently receiving stems simply from the fact that observers are finally laying their lazy stereotypes to rest. Gone are the days where he seemed to be labeled a sideways passer without a moment’s thought. Where as social media used to be awash with anti-Carrick sentiment, it’s now full of illustrative support – a rather impressive graphic highlighting how 32 of his 50 successful passes were of a forward motion was a popular pick of the post-match Tweets on Sunday.
But while the added swathes of positivity that are being batted Carrick’s way must be pleasing for the ego, it’s ultimately not going to change the performances. Because the support of the masses might represent something of a wavering variable, the quality of what he brings to this United side is an unflappable constant. Don’t expect it to stop anytime soon.