It has been well documented that the next few months will be key for the long-term development of the Manchester United squad. Before the start of the new season, several squad players will surely discover whether or not they fit into Sir Alex Ferguson’s plans for the future.
The biggest clue as to how Ferguson intends to shape his squad has come with the announcement that Michael Carrick has been awarded a new three-year contract – the former Spurs man has become a mainstay of the United line-up since his arrival in 2006.
The deal is arguably the clearest indication yet that Sir Alex Ferguson does not believe that Owen Hargreaves will make a complete recovery from the chronic knee injuries that have dogged his career over the last two and a half years.
From that point of view, the retention of a player of Carrick’s calibre is understandable. However, the one time West Ham player has really struggled to match the form that made him indispensable during United’s run of three consecutive league titles between 2007 and 2009. Such has been the indifferent level of performance coming from the once imposing midfielder that there were hushed rumours that Ferguson may have tried to sell up in the summer.
I was at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night during Manchester United’s 2-1 defeat to defending league champions, Chelsea, and got a first hand look at the problems Carrick has been experiencing of late. Despite looking tidy in possession during United’s dominant period in the first half, Carrick was unable to impose himself on the game. By the time the home side had taken control of the game during the second half, he was completely ineffectual and was unable to break up the advancing waves of blue possession. For a man that scores so infrequently, United’s coaching staff would have expected far more defensive solidarity in such a pivotal position.
Yet, despite watching this, and numerous other insipid performances from Carrick over recent months, a new deal has been offered to the two time Champions League finalist. A potential answer as to why may lie in the advancing years of several of the club’s most influential figures.
Experienced heads at Old Trafford are hardly in short supply, but Ferguson will be aware that with Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs entering what must surely be their final year as United players, and players like Rio Ferdinand and Wes Brown struggling to string a run of games together, that the role of someone with Carrick’s experience is likely to become far more valuable over the next couple of years.
This new contract is also a well-timed fillip for Carrick’s international hopes. With Gareth Barry struggling for form and both Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard showing signs of wear and tear, there will fresh hope for a more permanent berth in the England squad. Twenty-two appearances across a near ten year career would suggest at unfinished business for a man who was the outstanding performer in England’s quickly forgotten 1-0 win over Ecuador at the 2006 World Cup.
Alex Ferguson has rarely offered new contracts to players who have not warranted them, and whilst this is not as left-field a decision as the one to give Michael Owen a two year spell at Old Trafford, Carrick will know he will need to repay his manager’s faith handsomely in the coming months.
I’ve always wanted to write a piece on Michael Carrick. Mainly because when Clive Tyldesley says his name on ITV it sounds like ‘Tariq’ and I wanted to share it. More bizarre musings available on Twitter – subject to availability.
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