There are two games in the past four years which represent the lowest ebb of Michael Carrickai??i??s career at Manchester United. The first was the 2009 Champions League final in Rome when a Xavi, Iniesta inspired Barcelona took United to school while Carrick, along with his teammates, was left chasing shadows across the vast expanse of Stadio Olimpico pitch.  The second was the 2011 Community Shield against Manchester City when an insipid display by Carrick in the first half resulted in him giving way to Tom Cleverley ai??i?? a player making his first senior team appearance. The injection of verve and dynamism in Unitedai??i??s play by the effervescent Cleverley seemed to bring to fore all that was missing in Carrickai??i??s play.

Indeed, after the game at Wembley, with less than two years remaining on his contract, Carrick might have been forgiven for wondering whether his tenure at Old Trafford would be soon drawing to a close. Sir Alex Ferguson, after all, can be as ruthless as it gets when it comes to severing ties with players he believe are past their sell-by dates. The team-sheets for next few games bore ominous signs for the Geordie midfielder as the manager opted to start the with likes of Cleverley and Anderson and the youngsters repaid their managerai??i??s faith through a string of impressive displays. Carrick seemed well down the pecking order and resigned to a bit part role in the team for the rest of his time at the club.

That may well have been the case had it not been for a serious injury suffered by Cleverley in a match against Bolton and Darren Fletcher starting to struggle to cope with his medical condition. As so often it happens in football, a stroke of misfortune for one opens the door for another. Beginning with the game against Swansea in November 2011, Carrick has started a staggering 54 of the last 56 Premier League encounters for United. For a midfielder aged 31 and at a club like United, it is truly a remarkable feat. But while fortune may have played a part in him regaining a spot in the starting lineup, it is the sheer weight of his performances that has seen him retain it for such a long stretch.

The signs of improvement were there last season; this season though, Carrick has reached a new level. Robin van Persie may have hogged most of the limelight with his goal scoring exploits but ask anyone who has followed United closely this term: Carrick has been just as influential, only in a much more understated way. While he has always been economical in possession, the main difference this season seems to be Carrickai??i??s willingness to look for the killer ball more often than not. In his early years at United, the midfielder was doubtlessly guilty of being in awe of the players around him and tended to play well within himself on most occasions leaving creative duties to be shouldered by others (mind you, when one of the ai???othersai??i?? was Paul Scholes, it probably was not the worst thing to do). It is during this time, the criticism regarding his lack of urge to play anything but the safe pass sideways and backwards started to take birth. The thing that was easily overlooked though was Carrickai??i??s contribution in retaining possession and forming a defensive screen in front of the centre-halves which made United so tough to score against.

Such defensive frugality stood United in good stead as the club racked up three consecutive league titles and one European Cup in the three seasons since Carrickai??i??s arrival. But then the Rome final happened. In Carrickai??i??s own words, the game passed United by and there was nothing that Carrick & co. could do about it. While there is no real shame in being outclassed by the likes of Xavi and Iniesta, the extent of haplessness in the capitulation armed Carrickai??i??s detractors ai??i?? United fans included ai??i?? with a crate full of ammunition. Ever since that fateful night, the stigma of being a player who bottles it at the bigger stages has stuck to Carrick. The fact that two years down the line, a United team consisting of Carrick got mauled at the same stage at the hands of the same opposition in a nearly identical manner, just cemented the unflattering reputation; the reputation that nearly pushed Carrick towards the same doors through which he entered back in 2006 billed as the replacement for Roy Keane.

It may have taken him six seasons, but at last that no. 16 jersey seems to be fitting to Carrickai??i??s broad shoulders. The graduate from the fabled West Ham youth academy (the one that sprouted the likes of Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand and Joe Cole among others) is going about his business in a manner that displays a resolve to set things right regarding previously gained reputations. Although United have not yet faced an opponent of Barcelonaai??i??s pedigree this season, in all the traditional big matches in the league, Carrick has put in stellar displays. Even more impressively, against Real Madrid at the cauldron that is Santiago Bernabeu, he rarely put a foot wrong while combating the likes of Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira.

The fact that Carrick has taken up a more advanced role in trying to influence the game in the attacking third has been reflected in the relative lack of defensive solidity in Unitedai??i??s performances this season. Without him acting as a screen, opposition players have found it easier to run at the centre backs more often and wreak havoc in the process. But while defenders may silently curse Carrickai??i??s new found sense of adventure, the forwards must be loving it. The game against Newcastle on Boxing Day serves as a perfect case in point. United shipped three sloppy goals at the back due to lackadaisical defending but Carrick kept on probing Newcastle and ultimately provided two assists ai??i?? one in the dying minutes ai??i?? in a dramatic 4-3 victory.

With his demure persona off the pitch tending to rub off on his performances on it, it is more difficult for Carrick than most to garner adulation. Hence, in spite of all his brilliance this season, it perhaps will not be a surprise if his name goes missing from the list of nominees for the Player of the Season gong. So it is just as well, that the man himself does not seem to be too much bothered about personal accolades. In his managerai??i??s words, “He’s not a guy that seeks publicity a lot. He’s a quiet lad and goes about his life in a similar way to Scholes and [Ryan] Giggs and that doesn’t mean to say that he’s not recognised by us.ai???

Being a model professional and a footballer with both feet firmly grounded, itai??i??s good to know that the midfielder has taken it upon himself to guide the new generation of youngsters looking to breakthrough at the club.

“There’s a responsibility of leading the younger boys and showing them, not just on the pitch but off the pitch, how to do things and how to act. I think that it just comes with time, of being here now for what is my seventh season, and playing a lot of games. I think it just comes with the more games you play and the older you get. The little bit more responsibility you get it is just a natural progression, really.”

 The new generation can do a lot worse than to look up to the man who keeps on driving Unitedai??i??s quest to glory on three separate fronts this season. And who knows, the quest may lead him to another Wembley final against the opposition that has caused him such grief on the previous two occasions. This time though, one feels heai??i??ll be better equipped to tackle them and bury the ghosts of Rome 2009 once and for all.

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One Response to “Manchester United : The Renaissance Of Michael Carrick”

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  1. Oh cmon says:

    Firstly, suggesting that Carrick is as good as Roy keane just made me have to comment. He plays all the time because he never runs, ever. Nobody has ever seen him run! He isn’t playing a different position. He’s still sat in front of defence barely moving, so if he’s played nearly every prem game, then he’s also conceded nearly every prem goal and there have been more than one that was completely his fault. We have conceded 31 in 27. That’s terrible by liverpools standards. I’m sure he’s a really nice top bloke, but good enough for united while barely running, tackling, marking or passing forward. C’mon man. Also you forgot to mention the most important game that he ruined for us. City in the fa cup semis. Gifted that goal to city, helping them to win their first trophy for over 30 years and giving them the belief to win the prem last season. Basically, it’s because of Carrick that city won 2 trophies. He’s not a terrible player, but any red that thinks he’s good enough for us is selling us short. He wouldn’t play for barca or Madrid!