A few months ago, on this very site I wrote an article proclaiming Michael Carrick the unsung hero of Manchester United’s quest for more trophies.
At the time United had just seen off Manchester City n the semi-final of the League Cup, were still in the Champion’s League and well in the hunt for the Premier League title. While players such as Wayne Rooney, Darren Fletcher and ‘own goals’ were all given credit for United’s accomplishments, Carrick seemed to be short of any real praise.
I argued that Carrick was one of the best passers in the league, had won numerous trophies since his arrival and could often dictate the pace of games. While all of those statements may still be true, there can be no denying that lately Carrick has been something of a liability to say the least.
Following the Champions League exit many fans, experts, pundits and Jim Beglin were quick to point out that Carrick was at fault for both Bayern Munich’s first two goals at Old Trafford. While the sending off of Rafael Da Silva was seen as the major reason for United’s failure, Carrick was arguably more to blame than the young Brazilian. The midfielder’s failure to deal with the danger for the first ball and get out-muscled far too easily, then lose possession dilly-dallying which led to the second, was almost inexcusable as unlike his poorly disciplined colleague, he wasn’t young and inexperienced.
Going into the Bayern game Carrick was coming off the back of a rather poor display against Liverpool in the league. It was his lack of composure, some may even call it dilly-dallying- I do like that word- that had led to Fernando Torres’s opener. That would have turned almost every United fan who’s at times questioned Carrick’s real value, totally against the Geordie if it weren’t for the fact that Ji-Sung Park and Wayne Rooney turned the game on its head.
Carrick hasn’t just underperformed in those games, going back a few weeks further to Wolves away, in the final few moments of the match a poor clearance by him had almost led to an equalizer for the midlands team. If it was not for Sam Vokes’s woefulness in front of goal then United would have dropped two valuable points and now be out of the title race.
It seems at a time when United need a man who has won the title every season he’s been at Old Trafford to step up, he’s suddenly started to fall to pieces. Saturday’s game against Spurs was a case in point. When Carrick replaced Antonio Valencia on the hour mark, I turned to the bloke in the seat next to me and said: “I hope he’s not gonna throw this away,” two minutes later Ledley King rose above him, without much difficulty and headed in an equaliser.
For whatever reason, Carrick has gone from a composed, midfield conductor to a panicky, weak, lightweight with a liking for dilly-dallying- I’ll stop using that word now, I think we’ve heard it enough- in the space of a few weeks.
The fact that Sir Alex Ferguson dropped Carrick for both the recent derby and the Spurs game tells us that the midfielder’s lack of form has not gone unnoticed by the United boss. It’s almost as if with the World Cup only weeks from now and United a Chelsea slip-up away from the title, Carrick has decided he neither wants a trip to South Africa or any more medals cluttering up his mantelpiece.
It may be that a long season has finally begun to take its toll on Carrick, that despite being 28 years-old his mind or body or both, have started to become fatigued which is causing him to make sloppy mistakes. It could be the pressure of having less match winners in the side and therefore more expectation placed on his shoulders has made him nervous. It could be that he’s simply lost the hunger and desire that he had two or three seasons ago due to the amount of success he’s achieved since his United career began. Or perhaps it just that with Newcastle’s recent promotion he’s realised that a consistent run of p*ss poor performances will result in a transfer to St James’s Park where he can re-join his family in the North East. Whatever the reason for his demise it could already have cost him his place in Fabio Capello’s squad.
Carrick is a player that it took me a long time to warm to. At first I thought he had a tendency to go missing in big games- a charge that still sticks- plus he didn’t get stuck in the way Darren Fletcher, Owen Hargreaves or Anderson did so I was never a big fan . However over the last three years he’s grown on me, I’ve learned to appreciate his good points- ability to pass etc, and if not ignore his faults- lack of goals etc, at least understand them, in the context of what it is he does bring to the team. This recent dip though, at a time when he’s arguably more needed than ever in his United career is becoming more and more difficult to excuse.
The sight of Owen Hargreaves on the bench on Saturday- along with Darron Gibson- may mean that Carrick finds himself playing no further part in this season’s final two games. If that happens, then while it may sound melodramatic, there could be the possibility that Carrick’s days as a first-team regular are all but over.
If he is given the chance against either Sunderland or Stoke to prove he’s merely experiencing a blip and get back to his best, then maybe he can not only salvage his world cup place but possibly even his United one.
Read more of Justin’s work at his excellent blog ‘Name on the Trophy’