Farewell Michael Carrick
It's all over. As Manchester United's season drew to a close at Wembley on Saturday, so did Michael Carrick's stellar career. The last man standing from that special 2008 team is now gone. An incredible servant to the club, the man who was brought in to replace Roy Keane departs with five Premier Leagues, one FA Cup, three League Cups, one Europa League, one Club World Cup and one Champions League.
Carrick began his career at West Ham United. He won the FA Youth Cup aged 18, scoring twice in the final. He was soon promoted to the first team by manager Harry Redknapp, who was well aware of the special talent he had at his disposal.
Carrick was then sent on multiple loan deals before making his breakthrough in the 2000-01 season. He was nominated for the PFA Young Player of the Year, losing out to Steven Gerrard. The following two seasons weren't the best for him as West Ham were relegated. He didn't leave the team that gave him his senior debut, but instead played an integral part in leading them to the play-offs.
Those impressive performances led to a move to White Hart Lane. Carrick slowly became a regular starter for Spurs. The following campaign, 2005-06, was the real deal. Carrick and co just missed out on a Champions League place. It was a season where Carrick showed he could play at the very top. And that is when Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United came calling.
Spurs were reluctant to let Carrick go. But who could turn down United at that time?
Carrick just kept getting better. He was the replacement for Roy Keane, forming a midfield partnership with Paul Scholes that ran Manchester United for almost a decade. *That* game against Roma will always live in the memory of the United faithful. Carrick ran the match and scored a brace.
The next season was the pinnacle of his time at Old Trafford. United conceded only 22 goals in the league. Many will give plaudits to the Vidic-Ferdinand partnership or Edwin Van der Sar's excellent goalkeeping. Deservedly so, but it's easy to forget Carrick's contribution. The Englishman wasn't a typical defensive or box-to-box midfielder. He didn't need to make multiple tackles or cover a lot of the pitch due to his positional brilliance. He was always in the right place at the right time, whether sitting in front of the defence or pushing forward to support the attack. He made 49 appearances that season. His 12th in the Champions League was where he scored during the final's penalty shootout.
Two more league titles followed in the historic 2008-09 and 2010-11 campaigns. Two seasons later, though, was the best of his career. Aged, 31, "El Magnifico Carrick" drove Manchester United to the league title. He made the most passes with an 89% accuracy. He was named in the PFA Team of the Year, nominated for the PFA Player of the Year and was also awarded United's Players' Player of the Year.
All those assumptions of Carrick being a safe player who doesn't take many risks were burnt to ashes. Allowing Scholes to do his thing, launching attacks himself, playing 30-40 yard passes without breaking a sweat and making roughly one key pass per game from defensive midfield. It was just something else.
The following two seasons weren't quite so good for Carrick, due to injuries and United's poor form. In Louis van Gaal's second season, however, the midfielder was back to his brilliant best. Who better than Carrick to play in a possession-based system? He was trusted alongside Bastain Schweinsteiger in the big games. United won against Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur. The maestro wasn't done yet. He completed the domestic grand slam after winning the FA Cup.
When Jose Mourinho arrived in the summer of 2016, many suggested that Carrick's importance would diminish. They couldn't have been more wrong. He came into the first team picture mid-season with United struggling to find the right midfield balance. Carrick formed a trio with Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba, which produced the best out of all three. United went on a three-month unbeaten run, scoring more, conceding less, having greater possession and creating more chances.
That's how important Carrick was. He had won everything he possibly could after United lifted the Europa League in Stockholm.
Carrick had a well-deserved testimonial on June 4th. It involved the players of that special 2008 side against Carrick's All-Star XI, featuring stars such as John Terry and Clarence Seedorf. The proceeds from the testimonial went to the newly founded Michael Carrick Foundation. The United midfielder wanted a life after football giving back to the beautiful game.
Carrick announced his retirement in March. He rarely featured this season, mainly due to a heart problem. He made his final Manchester United appearance against Watford at Old Trafford on the season's last day. Carrick was voted the Man of the Match by United supporters. He made yet another 40-yard defence-splitting pass into Juan Mata, who squared it for Marcus Rashford to score. What a fitting end to 'Havoc's' career.
Carrick has since moved into a coaching role alongside Mourinho. The results are visible. Paul Pogba gave him the credit for his match-winning performance in the Manchester derby. Carrick is now ready to help Jose bring the glory days back to the Theatre of Dreams. He also has his eyes set on becoming a manager in the future.
And just like that, one of the last of a dying breed has gone. Carrick's career is best defined as under-appreciated. Despite shielding arguably the best Premier League team in history, he never received the deserved recognition. Perhaps he could've also added the balance to the Lampard-Gerrard axis for England.
Carrick was not the strongest physically, but mentally he was two steps ahead. He always positioned himself well to make interceptions and knew his next move before winning the ball. His passing ability was second to none. Carrick could execute passes that other players wouldn't even think of.
Intelligent, humble, unselfish and technically brilliant, Michael Carrick was one of the finest English midfielders of his generation.
Greats such as Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Pep Guardiola and, of course, Sir Alex Ferguson have all had mighty praise for Carrick. They either describe him as a calming influence on the Manchester United side or a tailor-made Barcelona player.
Paul Scholes has admiration for Carrick, too:
Michael is a different breed to the likes of Roy Keane and Nicky Butt. They were brilliant, but so is Michael in a different way. He brings calmness to the game and parades around the pitch like a Rolls-Royce. I’ve always found him very easy to play with. He’s capable of doing anything. He can create goals, score goals, he’s a great passer of the ball and is a big strong lad with a lot of presence who can run all day long.
Thierry Henry labelled Carrick an underrated player of his generation.
Not only this season but every year. People do not realise the amount of work Carrick delivers until he has gone.
Perhaps, if born in Italy or Spain, Carrick would've been worshipped as the great regista that he was.