Fabio Capello names his provisional 30-man squad for the World Cup next week, and there is one man who can consider himself hugely fortunate to be taking his inevitable place among the list. Michael Carrick will fly out to South Africa as England’s back-up central midfielder in a season in which he has picked up his 8th, and still perhaps 9th, major honour as a Manchester United player. On the surface, this is an accomplishment which should be commended. In reality, Carrick has achieved the remarkable feat of securing his place in the World Cup squad largely by default, despite a season in which he has frustrated both fans and the United hierarchy with his lacklustre performances.
I strongly believe that handing out World Cup places should be a positive move. In other words, players should bring something to the squad that is unique, different to that of their rivals. The key to tournament success is squad diversity – look at Euro ’08, when Spain needed to change tactics, Cesc Fabregas, a player of poise and thrust, was the alternative to Marcos Senna, the holding-man. There is simply no point in taking like-for-like; it is a waste of a space.
James Milner has shown himself to be a shoe-in for Capello because he is unique – a versatile midfielder with the powerful running of Steven Gerrard, but with a sufficient defensive mind to play in a central midfield pairing. Likewise, Shaun-Wright Phillips should not – and probably will not – make the squad because he offers nothing different to the superior Aaron Lennon. Indeed, Theo Walcott is hugely flawed but at least he is an alternative.
Michael Carrick falls into Wright-Phillips’ category. His fans suggesting his calmness and passing set him apart. We have a far better central midfielder of that ilk in Gareth Barry, and were he to be substituted supposing England were in need of a goal why would Capello turn to Carrick? Alternatively, Carrick’s brittle nature hardly suggests he would be the man for a backs-to-the-walls job holding a lead. Scott Parker, a player who has excelled in the face of adversity this season, provides a different option to Barry’s composure and surely he is a viable option for a different type of game? We need a goal, we turn to Milner. We need to hold a lead, we turn to Parker. Simple, isn’t it?
Yet the ignorance does not just come from the England staff. The media, whose obsession with predicting the England squad becomes more intense as the days progress, fail to mention Carrick’s place as being a source of contention. Having seen Frank Lampard, despite scoring 29 goals this season, and Steven Gerrard, who remains without question England’s second-best player, questioned as justifiable selections how has Carrick escaped such scrutiny?
Manchester United fans will testify to the unrivalled frustration of watching Carrick delay his pass so frequently he takes the sting out of every attack he becomes involved in. The annoyance in watching him stroll around as if he has acres of space before having the ball nipped off his toe. The anger whenever he sprays the ball back to Edwin Van Der Sar so the Dutch keeper can smash it straight back where it came from. Composure is a word used to describe good players who create their own space – Paul Scholes a prime example – and for bad players who are too slow. Michael Carrick is the latter. His ineptitude in last season’s Champions League final, when he was bamboozled by the masterly Xavi and Iniesta, prove he just can’t cut it at the highest level.
Fabio Capello has a host of tricky decisions to make before next week’s squad is announced. Does he take Ledley King? Has Bobby Zamora proved his worth as a late gamble? Will Gary Neville make an unheralded return as England’s reserve right-back? However, I fear one of the most important choices, the selection of an overrated, lackadaisical central midfielder, will be one he casually overlooks.
Written By James Aldridge