Contribution by By Tom Pattison. Tom is a passionate Manchester United fan and occasional music blogger. Check out his blog listenwithdanger.blogspot.com
A good friend of mine with contacts at Aston Villa suggested to me today that a prospective deal for Carrick to head to Villa Park in January for around £10 million has been arranged. The deal is dependent on wages, and countless times ‘done deals’ have failed to materialise but it made me think about the situation Carrick finds himself now in at Old Trafford.
Cards on the table, I am a fan of Michael Carrick. As a great admirer of Italian football I have always valued the role of deep lying playmaker with an appreciation of space. Carrick has performed that role expertly at times as explained by Michael Cox in this feature for ZonalMarking.net. The player he has most often been compared to is Xavi Hernandez – a comparison I find deeply unfair. In the Man United squad the role closest to that in which Xavi excels undoubtedly belongs to Paul Scholes. In my view the player Carrick most closely resembles at his best is Andrea Pirlo. For me it was no surprise when Alex Ferguson paid big money to bring him from Spurs. Sir Alex had already shown a desire to play three central midfielders in Europe and Michael Carrick was the ideal candidate to form a Milan style trio alongside Darren Fletcher (Gattuso) and Owen Hargreaves (Ambrosini). Carrick’s impact has been criminally overlooked by many acolytes of the more stat-friendly Gerrard and Lampard. In his first three seasons at the club Manchester United won the Premier League three times and reached two European Cup finals. My own fondest memories of Carrick come from that debut season where his ability to exploit the movement of Louis Saha added a crucial creative element to our side. As suggested by United writer Daniel Harris in the brilliant ‘On the Road’. The decline and eventual sale of the Frenchman had a significant impact on the importance of Carrick to the team. In fact it could be argued that the rise to prominence of Rooney and acquisition of Berbatov has reduced the necessity of Carrick. Both players are happy coming off the front to create meaning the resurgent Paul Scholes has dropped deeper taking over the role for which Carrick was intended. However it would be letting Carrick off the hook to suggest these are the primary reasons for his relegation to squad player. It is a damning indictment and evidence of Carrick’s stagnation that four years on from his signing we are once again talking of the need for a replacement for the Ginger Prince. Such has been the frequency of inconsistent Carrick performances that he is in the very possible position of being moved on before the post-Scholes era even begins.
It seems unusual that given his recent return to favour – starting eight of the last nine games in all competitions – that the prospect of his departure has again been raised. I see the case for Carrick’s departure to be based on three possibilities. Firstly, the success he has enjoyed has reduced his desire to improve and he has therefore failed the Ferguson ‘hunger test’. This is difficult to judge without observing the player on a daily basis but his continued failure to impose himself against even mediocre opposition has become difficult to defend. Saturday’s game against Aston Villa – though far from a poor performance personally – was yet another case of Fletcher overshadowing him as he drove the team towards a fight back whilst Carrick remained passive to the point of anonymity. Secondly, the tactical vision for the latest team is no longer complimentary to Carrick’s style. Marcelo Lippi reinvented Andrea Pirlo albeit briefly as a fantasista for the Azurri. Ferguson experimented at times last year with playing Carrick in a more advanced role behind the striker but Carrick was given little opportunity to adapt to the role before the experiment was shelved. He seems to have fallen behind even Park in the pecking order for this berth suggesting again that Carrick has failed the audition. A lack of creative attacking drive from central areas was again painfully exposed at Eastlands last week and it is this area that requires attention most urgently if United are to regain their place as one of the continent’s most dangerous teams. The third reason is closely connected to the second – time is running out to receive a good price for Carrick when Ferguson wants to refresh his midfield dynamics. Fletcher has undoubtedly emerged as the heartbeat of the new Manchester United and his place is no longer in doubt. Anderson has so far failed to assert his claims but given his age and the large initial outlay on him the Brazilian would seem a less sensible departure than Carrick. Hargreaves is without any resale value and represents nothing more than a bonus should he achieve any sort of meaningful recovery. The jury is out on ‘hotshot’ Darron Gibson but even if he were to be sold the fee would not negate the need to raise the necessary funds to rebuild. Steven Defour and other creative attacking midfielders have consistently been linked with the club yet Ferguson (and the Glazers!) may feel the time is right to promote youth and put faith in Eikrem and Cleverley to stake their claim to be first team players. In financial terms (and how sick are we of them by now!) Carrick is a diminishing asset and should rumoured offers be anywhere near the mooted £10 million mark it would be extremely difficult to turn down.
As I stated at the start of this blog, I am an admirer of Carrick but even I cannot fault the logic of ushering him towards the exit door should a credible offer be received. I suspect not all fans will be sorry to see him go which is unfair given the achievements during his time at the club. The perma-crocked Hargreaves has attained hero status whilst an infinitely more reliable performer has never received the same level of warmth from the fans. An under-stated, undervalued performer I will miss him, but with a heavy heart I fully support any decision to let him go.
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Daniel Harris – On the Road: A Journey Through A Season