United’s 16: What’s in a number?

January 30, 2017 Tags: , Reads 6 comments
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The United number 7 is a shirt that carries plenty of history, albeit in recent times a jersey that was held by gifted yet ultimately lightweight talents. While the club is looking for a worthy successor to don the fabled number 7, José Mourinho is fully aware that a new number 16 could be required sooner rather than later.

Only two players have worn the United’s 16 since squad numbers were introduced: the iconic Roy Keane and the metronomic Michael Carrick. With the Geordie entering the twilight of his career there’s now a question eerily similar to that posed when Keane departed Old Trafford. “Who will be the new Michael Carrick?”

The query seems straightforward enough, but what it implies is that Mourinho should search for a direct replacement and there are very few high quality options to fill Carrick’s boots. The most obvious choice is Paris Saint Germain’s Marco Verratti, while Borussia Dortmund’s highly rated Julian Weigl has also been mentioned in the conversation. It is perhaps just as pertinent to consider whether United should look for a Carrick clone at all.

"Only two players have worn the United’s 16 since squad numbers were introduced: Keane and Carrick. With the Geordie entering the twilight of his career the question is eerily similar to that posed when Keane departed."

This much was as true when Keane left Old Trafford in 2005. Carrick is many things, but a copy of the Cork man he is not. That did not stop Carrick from successfully defining himself as an extremely effective midfielder to the point where the Geordie is practically indispensable. Simply put, whenever Carrick has played this season United, more often than not, has won.

In the question of succession, Mourinho must consider whether he wants United to operate with a deep-lying playmaker, in the Carrick mould, or whether he prefers to alter the way the midfield functions. Mourinho should know – he has worked with some of the best over his career, coaching Claude Makélélé, Xabi Alonso, Esteban Cambiasso and Luka Modrić. The Portuguese is more than capable of assembling different types of midfield to suit his need.

Roy Keane

If the latest rumour is true the United boss has set his eyes on Monaco’s Tiemoue Bakayoko. If that is indeed the case then Mourinho’s vision for his team appears to be one filled with powerful, quick, athletic technicians.

Last summer’s transfer dealings certainly indicate that Mourinho is heading in that direction, given what Zlatan Ibrahimović, Paul Pogba, Eric Bailly and, to a lesser degree, Henrikh Mkhitaryan offer on the pitch. There has been a noticeable effort to make the starting team more powerful, taller and stronger, which may explain Mourinho’s decision to start Marouane Fellaini at the beginning of his Old Trafford tenure.

Though the Portuguese manager admitted that it’s a “pity” Michael Carrick isn’t 10 years younger, he is fully committed to retooling the team. In all likelihood that means the ‘Carrick role’ could soon become a thing of the past. Not least because, as noted, there are very few identikit Carrick replacements. Once the Geordie hangs up his boots the position will become open to new interpretation.

It may be that Carrick’s successor will have a more limited scope, simply being instructed to screen the defence and offload possession to more attack-minded players. Alternatively, Mourinho may look to build a more fluid midfield, where the middle three are comfortable switching roles, enabling a new number 16 to attack, while still expecting them to be defensively responsible.

The crux is that just like there was never a new Keane, despite Liam Miller’s best efforts, there probably won’t be a new Carrick either. Indeed, the incumbent has a unique mix of defensive nous and attacking intelligence that makes him a vital cog in United’s team even at the age of 35, and even after Mourinho had mentally discarded the player last summer.

Moreover, it is noticeable that those who have tried to fill Carrick’s shoes have not quite been capable of pulling it off. Any notion that a direct replacement is needed overlooks the fact that very few players can do what the Geordie can.

Michael Carrick

United discovered the hard way that a like-for-life search is nigh on impossible in the wake of Keane’s departure. While Carrick is a very different type of player to the Irishman, it makes sense that whoever inherits the number 16 will have to make the  position their own. No cheap imitations here.

The transition will not be easy either. Indeed, Carrick suffered plenty of lows at United before truly commanding the position. His presence in midfield is no doubt calming right now, but in the grand scheme of things Carrick is a player that is just aiding the transition from a post-Ferguson United to a Mourinho outfit. Ultimately, the Portuguese manager has very different demands of his squad.

For the successor there will be comparisons to Carrick once a new recruit is found. It’s the easiest route to an analytical critique. That form of evaluation will blind pundits and supporters alike to whatever new tactical requirements Mourinho will inevitably ask of his new player.

The question to be asked is now, is how the role will be redefined after the Geordie’s eventual departure, and not simply “who will be the new Michael Carrick?”


David Slone - January 30, 2017 Reply

good read

NazManUnited - January 30, 2017 Reply

Carrick stepped up & shouldered the weight after Sir Alex & Scholes retired. A true servant to the club.

Marco - January 31, 2017 Reply

Basti is, what, 31? He has a few good years left in him. He has comported himself well during his absence from the team and seems to have won Jose over. Don’t discount him just yet. We could do a lot worse.

Dane - January 31, 2017 Reply

Basti can do a job. But where we will get that player from? Only God knows 🙂

Dazza2501 - January 31, 2017 Reply

Kevin Strootman from Roma would be worth considering. He plays with some of Keane’s aggression and energy, yet the Dutch changed their entire system, when he missed the last World Cup through injury, because they lacked anyone else to shield their central defence and start off attacks. He also has leadership qualities, and with Carrick and maybe Rooney potentially being ” phased out” and Zlatan unable to go on forever there is a void that needs filling in terms of leadership as well as the footballing ability Carrick brings.

Emmy - January 31, 2017 Reply

Carrick has always split ManU supporters. Some of us felt he did intelligent play and others felt he didn’t impose himself on games like Keane. Crazy that it’s taken a 35 year Carrick to end this debate!

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