Tag Michael Carrick

Tag Michael Carrick

Carrick’s midfield mission impossible

July 19, 2011 Tags: , , Opinion 92 comments

With Manchester United’s bid for Wesley Sneijder seemingly run aground on the financial rocks Sir Alex Ferguson has admitted this week that the Reds may not bring in a direct replacement for Paul Scholes. With United’s sights aimed high, Ferguson told press gathered on the club’s US tour that only the very best will do for United. Not for the first time this summer supporters’ hopes that a high-class central midfielder will arrive at Old Trafford may have been dashed.

On a similar track, midfielder Michael Carrick believes that replacing Scholes is a shared responsibility among the players that remain at Old Trafford. It is, of course, an impossible task and not simply because in Anderson, Carrick and Darren Fletcher United does not possess the requisite quality to replace Scholes. Moreover, numbers are down after Scholes’ retirement, Owen Hargreaves’ release and Darron Gibson’s impending sale.

“I think losing a player like Paul is a big loss – he brings so much to the team,” admitted Carrick.

“He’s a world-class player. Scholesy was just brilliant – how he played the game, how he was off the pitch. He was loved by everyone. None of the lads have a bad word for him. He came in, did the business and then headed off again. He had genius ability that you can’t really teach.

“You have to compensate in other ways. We’ve done that in the past – we lost Cristiano Ronaldo a few years ago and people didn’t think we’d get over it. Different players step up – maybe not one player but we share the responsibility. I feel there’s more responsibility as you get older, too. Experience counts for a lot. I just want to improve again and have a good season.”

Nice words of course but essentially empty. After all history indicates that Carrick, while improving over the past 12 months, will remain passive in the face of the highest competition. The Geordie’s qualities are many – and still admired at Old Trafford – but Scholes’ replacement he is not.

Meanwhile, Anderson, of whom many supporters retain high hopes, has achieved little of note in four years at the club. Aged just 22 the Brazilian is arguably far from his peak; yet years into a disappointing career in England to boot. The man Ferguson identified as Scholes’ heir apparent is arguably fortunate to remain at the and benefiting from Ferguson’s considerable patience with players he believes may come good.

Then there is Fletcher, whose 2010/11 campaign was spoilt by a mystery virus that effectively ended the Scot’s season 12 matches early. That the Scotland captain is not fit enough to join United on tour says much, leaving Ferguson with just two recognised central midfielders in the States plus 38-year-old Ryan Giggs.

Yet the United manager has once again sought to cool talk of Dutchman Sneijder joining the club this summer, with Internazionale reportedly asking for £35 million and the player seeking wages over £200,000 per week. The impasse leaves United looking at alternatives, with the club now dismissing the notion that Samir Nasri will join after Arsenal simply ignored a £20 million bid.

“Forget it. We are looking at some things but I am not so sure Sneijder will be easy to get,” Ferguson said.

“I could pick three or four players to come in but they wouldn’t be good enough for us so there is no point. I would be happy enough [with no new signings]. Maybe I am a bit overloaded in the strikers’ positions. The alternatives in midfield are not nearly as strong. But I have a good squad.”

It is pointed then that Ferguson chose to praise young Tom Cleverley as “an intelligent modern-day footballer,” with the 21-year-old joining the United squad, along with Danny Welbeck, at Nike’s headquarters in Oregon this week.

“Welbeck’s an England international, an exceptional talent. Cleverley will play for England. His movement and understanding of space is really good for a young player. We are happy both of them will stay with us. Because of the experience they have had, keeping them now benefits us.”

Although Stuart Pearce used Cleverley  mainly in wide positions for England Under-21 team this summer – as did Wigan Athletic last season – many believe that the youngster has the natural talent to compete centrally. It is clearly a huge ask for the Basingstoke-born midfielder, who scored four in 25 appearances for the Latics, to step into Scholes’ shoes with immediate effect.

Could the answer to Ferguson’s dilemma lie elsewhere? Certainly United’s failure to add proven quality in central midfield has led many – supporters included – to speculate that Wayne Rooney could drop even deeper in the coming season, away from the ‘number 10’ position occupied to such great effect over the past six months. It’s a notion dismissed by Ferguson, who admirers the Scouser’s on-the-field intelligence but is unlikely to deploy the former Evertonian in a more limiting central midfield role.

“Wayne could play centre-midfield, but not the way that Scholesy played it. They’re too different,” added the 69-year-old United boss.

“The way Wayne would play as opposed to Scholesy is that he would be more dynamic and all over the place, using his energy to run everywhere, challenge and hit those cross-field passes that he’s terrific at. Scholes was more calculated. He always had that control about him, controlling the speed and pace of a game, which is pretty difficult to do. He was an absolute one-off.

“You can’t replace players like that. You hope you can get something approaching it, but you’ll never replace Scholes. We’re all searching for that. Everybody is searching for the special player who makes the difference to his team.”

Indeed, this summer has left Ferguson facing the very real prospect of entering the new season with solely Anderson, Carrick and Fletcher as the Scot’s front-line central midfielders. It’s a sobering thought despite Carrick’s promise to exert greater influence in the coming season. One in which the Geordie’s shared responsibility is unlikely to bring much comfort.

Just blame Carrick

April 12, 2011 Tags: Opinion 56 comments

This season it seems that Michael Carrick has been blamed for everything. Rising house prices, the war in Iraq, the conflict in Libya; all Carrick’s fault. Joking apart though Carrick has taken a lot of flak in the past six months, some deserved but a lot unmerited. What then will it take for Carrick to return to a page in the supporters’ collective good book and to find consistently effective form in the heart of United’s midfield?

Never one to set the pulses racing, Carrick does a job and in his first seasons at United, did it very well. However, the common consensus amongst United fans is that he has not been the same since being taken apart by Messrs Andreas Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez in the 2009 Champions League Final. That trauma, along with a change in role in the Reds’ midfield due to the extended absence of Owen Hargreaves, seems to have hampered Carrick’s progress. This was particularly true last season as his confidence seemed sapped and he was left out in favour of Darron Gibson in many of the crucial games at the end of the campaign.

However, Carrick has shown a marked improvement in recent weeks. Maybe the Geordie hasn’t hit the heights of his first couple of seasons in Red but the Carrick of old does seem to be emerging, particularly against Chelsea last Wednesday. At Stamford Bridge last week Carrick was crucial in United’s first win in west London since 2002, playing a huge part in Wayne Rooney’s winning goal and, along with the effervescent Ryan Giggs, effectively marshalling Chelsea’s imposing midfield duo of Frank Lampard and Michael Essien.

Michael Carrick versus Rangers

Diagram 1, Carrick v Rangers

The midfielder’s passing was also impressive. Already considered one of his strong points, Carrick completed 83 per cent of all of his passes, which is a praise-worthy stat at such a tough venue. The 30-year-old also covered nearly ten kilometres – an extremely good shift only bettered by his central midfield partner Giggs – that puts paid to claims that Carrick is lazy.

Carrick is not a destructive midfielder in the ilk of Hargreaves or Darren Fletcher though, nor is he an out and out attacking midfielder like Anderson or Paul Scholes in his pomp. However, Carrick is exceptional at reading the game. In this season’s Champions League the midfielder has made a total of 35 interceptions, which betters two other players who are of similar ilk – Chelsea’s John Obi Mikel, who has 13, and Real Madrid’s Xavi Alonso, who has 25.

The positional change referred to earlier has involved Carrick being deployed in a deeper role to screen the back four; a position in which Hargreaves excelled in during his first season at Old Trafford. Although billed as a defensive midfielder by many, Carrick seems to excel further up the pitch as a playmaker.

Michael Carrick versus Marseille

Diagram 2, Carrick v Marseille

Against Rangers (Diagram 1) Carrick started alongside Paul Scholes in a midfield that gave the Geordie licence to move further forward and influence United’s attacking play. By contrast against Marseille (Diagram 2), starting in a midfield three many of his forward passes were less apparent and many were unsuccessful. In the role Carrick played against Marseille he was expected to ‘get stuck in’ and play the Roy Keane tough-tackling midfield role. In fact, he saw less of the ball thus giving him less influence in United’s attack, although he still completed 43 of an attempted 52 passes.

Tackling is not Carrick’s strong point Hhe’s got a tackle in him yes but many feel he is unwilling to ‘get stuck in’. This could be the case and if Carrick is unsure of his own ability in that area then this will be of detriment to his play. Diagram 3 could add credence to this view.

Michael Carrick versus Marseille

Diagram 3, Carrick v Marseille

Another criticism that is often made of Carrick is his in ability to pass forward. However, when Carrick plays in a more forward position – in the centre of the park – he seems to be more willing and confident in his ability to influence the Reds. This can be seen below in Carrick’s passing against Chelsea, compared to that against Marseille (Diagram 4). Although Carrick made more passes against Marseille he had a better success rate against Chelsea, furthermore United had to contain Chelsea for a lot longer than they did Marseille and had possession of the ball more sporadically. Carrick’s use of the ball seems to be more effective when playing in an advanced role.

Interestingly, Sir Alex Ferguson seems to be taking note as Carrick has not played in a midfield three since the game at Stade Velodrome. Carrick has featured in eight of the nine games since the first leg of the last 16 tie and in each he has featured alongside only one midfielder as opposed to two. Not only has Carrick improved but so has the team, Anfield aside.

When Carrick came on at the weekend for the last 15 minutes against Fulham he exuded a confidence that has been lacking at times over the past two seasons. The midfielder popped first time passes around with aplomb and looked very much like the Carrick of old.

Michael Carrick versus Marseille/Chelsea

Diagram 4, Carrick v Marseille/Chelsea

Another reason for Carrick’s upsurge in recent form could be the return of Antonio Valencia, which has enabled United to operate in a 4-4-2 formation more often, reverting to the 1994 style of two out-and-out wingers in Valencia and Nani. But stats mean little to some of course. Many supporters have already made their minds up about Carrick and, despite some praise-worthy metrics, have turned their back on the England international.

What is not in doubt: Carrick has recently signed a new three-year deal. Whether you believe this is because of Ferguson’s faith in United’s number 16 – recent performances merit this – or because the Reds are cash strapped and have been forced to offer the 30-year-old a contract that few were expecting, is up to you.

However, Carrick is going to be here for the foreseeable whether fans like it or not. It is hard to believe that Ferguson has signed up a player who he does not believe has the credentials to be the main man in United’s midfield.

Perhaps its time for a clean slate: give Carrick a chance. The faith may well be rewarded.

Carrick’s return welcome but only if it lasts

November 4, 2010 Tags: Opinion 35 comments

Let there be no doubt, Michael Carrick’s role in Manchester United’s recent success is central, despite the Geordie’s many critics. The former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder’s ability to quickly win and recycle possession helped United succeed as a dynamic counter-attacking side in the wake of Roy Keane’s departure.

Arguably United would – could – not have secured three Premier League trophies in a row from 2007 onwards and the Champions League title in 2008, without the laid back midfielder. Yet, for seemingly more than a year Carrick’s form has hit rock bottom.

Slower to the ball, more wasteful and lacking a certain, for want of a better word, oomph, Carrick found himself out of the United team and secretly hawked around for a summer transfer. Sunderland showed initial interest but a mooted £10 million transfer back to his native North East failed to materialise.

Indeed, the opening weeks of the season saw no improvement in the 29-year-old’s abysmal form and even those supporters cognisant of Carrick’s pivotal, if understated, role in recent successes grew weary. In palpably the weakest area of United’s squad, Carrick should be dominating central midfield. At close to £18 million Carrick was, after all, brought to the club at great cost.

Yet, there is seemingly, to use the old cliché, light at the end of the tunnel, with Carrick selected for the past six games in a row, including five wins on the bounce. In United’s recent victories over Bursaspor and Tottenham, Carrick, while not a stand out performer, certainly provided a reminder of his abilities.

The Geordie’s smart square pass for Darren Fletcher’s opening goal in Turkey on Tuesday night followed an encouraging performance against his former team in United’s victory over Spurs at the weekend.

It’s a return to form Carrick credits to recovery from injury, with the midfielder suffering from an achilies tendon problem in the opening weeks of the season.

“I should have got something done about my Achilles sooner because I was carrying it for a while,” said the midfielder, who will turn 30 next summer.

“It is easier to say that now I have got rid of it because I feel great.

“But it is probably only how I feel now that I realise how bad it was. I feel good now and am happy with my game.”

Two good performances do not necessarily mean that Carrick has clambered out of the worst – and longest – slump of his career of course. But there is at least hope that the last embers of the player’s United career may flicker once again.

With Paul Scholes majestic only in fleeting bursts, Fletcher out-of-sorts, Anderson unfit and Darron Gibson simply not good enough, United has struggled in central midfield this season. Indeed, draws with Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion saw supposedly inferior teams out-pass and out-muscle United in the centre of the park.

Carrick though is defiant, despite manager Sir Alex Ferguson being open to offers for the midfielder this summer.

“I didn’t think I had to answer any critics,” he said.

“The only opinions that count are those of the manager and the staff. You just have to brush aside the rest of it and believe in yourself.

“I know when I am not playing well. I wasn’t hitting my best form so I couldn’t argue about the teams the manager was picking.

“I am not big enough to be saying I should be playing every game, so it was up to me to play well again.”

The charge levelled at Carrick over his career is of a failure of character; that he should be more dominant, more like Roy Keane. At the height of Carrick’s powers it was a fallacious criticism, missing the point that few players were ever as dominant – on or off the pitch – as the Irishman.

Moreover, Carrick’s raison d’être lay not in his destructive side but the player’s ability to get United moving rapidly from back to front, which was perhaps even more important than the midfielder’s gifted range of passing.

But positive recent performances mean little unless Carrick can translate very recent form into performances at the highest level. Intuitively, United still looks well short of Europe’s finest in the midfield. After all, Carrick has rarely impressed since he was humiliated by Barcelona in the 2009 Champions League final.

In that respect Carrick has a crucial role to play but only if he can sustain and build on the performances of the past week. For too long and far too often Fletcher has carried his erstwhile senior partner in midfield. It is now surely time for the Geordie to repay the faith – albeit backhanded – that Ferguson has now shown.

After all, with Ferguson apparently determined to rebuild United’s central midfield next summer Carrick may again find himself marginalised or sold on unless the player’s return to form is permanent.

Should the Scot be handed substantial transfer funds as Joel Glazer apparently promised in his now infamous phone call to Wayne Rooney on 21st October, then Carrick’s role may once again be confined to the bench.

Should the Glazer family revert to type, Carrick may yet be used as the financial makeweight many expected of him last summer.

Carrick’s World Cup Diary

July 8, 2010 Tags: , Just for fun 1 comment

Soon as the yelling stopped, a glass tray flew across the room, bouncing off JT’s forehead and hitting me smack bang in the middle of my face. As I regained consciousness, all I could hear was the Gaffer screaming down at me:

“Carrick, watta da hell are you doing here? Mamma Mia! Next time I throw something at Roberto Green, don’t you dare get in its way. CAPICE?”

“Yes boss, sorry boss, won’t happen again boss.”

“Now shaddappa your face! And the rest of you, you will be punished severely for your weak performance today. Yes, I am pissed off and that means one thing – NO darts tonight, or ever again, until you learn how to be men on the football pitch.

“Shaun, you can still play on the Wii.”

I looked up and could see Gareth smirking, while Ash sneakily took a picture of himself, strangely. I also noticed Carra taking a picture of Ash too. Was I seeing things?

My vision was coming back to me and the blood had stopped gushing out of my forehead. I soon realised however that I was once again all alone in the changing room, with Wazza the last one to leave I shouted:

“Wayne please wait for me,” but he was too busy speaking Scouse to Stevie G to notice.

I got changed quickly and went outside, but the bus had left. They probably thought I was onboard. I am sure it was nothing more than an honest mistake.

A few journos I knew from back home drove up to me as I waited alone outside the empty stadium; I could see one of them was staring at my black eye and I knew he was going to grill me about it:

“Excuse me, do you know the quickest route to the downtown district?”

I was answering his questions when suddenly he yawned and drove away. He must have been very tired, as those guys have a very demanding job.

I managed to eventually get to the hotel, offering a truck driver my England kit and massage in return for a lift back. Unfortunately though, I got there late, just after the kitchen had closed. Apparently Frank had eaten all the supplies from the all night room service menu.

Never mind, I guess he needs the energy more than I do, seeing as he starts all our games.

I got to my room, having feasted on some wood and leaves from the garden. So all in all, it was a day full of positives.

Ok so we drew with the US and I didn’t get a single minute of play. Greeney will probably never play for England again and I can’t see properly out of my left eye but apart from that, it’s good to finally be under way in the 2010 World Cup.

I will write again after our easy game against Algeria. Unitl then keep those white flags flying high all you England fans, ‘cos we sure will.

I have to go now, I can hear someone outside my door…

Carra, is that you again?

What now for Carrick and Berbatov?

April 9, 2010 Tags: , Opinion 10 comments

Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Carrick shared more than a common heritage at Tottenham Hotspur. The fabulously talent pair – Rolls Royce players in a Park Lane showroom – are each under an uncomfortable spotlight. With Manchester United investing £48 million in the pair, Sir Alex Ferguson is right to ask some searching questions of their value.

Carrick’s role in United’s Premier League title wins 2007-2009 is too quickly underestimated. The former West Ham United player’s ability to retain possession while quickly circulating the ball enabled Ferguson’s side to recapture some of the dynamism missing in the previous three seasons.

An unfussy player, the Geordie has long been accused – often unfairly – of failing to influence the biggest games. The rich man’s water-carrier, Carrick’s make-up has never stretched to include the type of dynamic midfield leadership performed so successfully by his predecessor in the number 16 shirt, Roy Keane.

Most supporters – not all – appreciate the distinction, although there is a long-standing suspicion of former Spurs players at Old Trafford. The generalisation that White Hart Lane acquisitions are technically good but struggle to translate their skills on the bigger stage holds common currency.

However, Ferguson’s faith in the midfielder remained undiminished until the early part of this campaign, with Carrick omitted from early season matches.

More to the point, in recent months the £18 million player’s form has waned. In particular, Carrick’s passing – surely his raison d’être in the United side – has lost both penetration and accuracy. The Rolls Royce is more than a little tarnished.

Indeed, United’s ability to retain possession is inextricably linked with poor results in recent matches. Carrick, woeful in Germany against Bayern Munich, warmed only the bench in United’s defeat to Chelsea at Old Trafford last weekend.

Perhaps surprisingly, the scapegoat returned for United’s return fixture against Bayern on Wednesday. Ferguson may live to regret that decision with the Geordie at fault for the Germans opening goal.

Berbatov’s problem is different, with the £30 million striker’s critics sharpening their knives the day he entered Old Trafford nearly two years ago.

While the Bulgarian’s 14 goals in 43 appearances marked an average return for the player in his first season at the club many view Berbatov’s contribution as waning still further this season.

Berbatov’s 12 goals in 37 games this season has included just 25 starts over the course of a long campaign. Indeed, Ferguson’s use of Wayne Rooney as the lone striker in those fixtures he regards as ‘category A’ is now set in stone.

Yet Ferguson denies losing faith in the player who is now little more than an expensive, if wonderfully talented, substitute. The manager’s failure to turn to Berbatov Wednesday left the side without a recognised striker for much of the second half.

“Yes, I still trust him,” said Ferguson today, although the suspicion remains that the Scot cannot bring himself to admit a failed acquisition.

“He is a good player and there is absolutely no reason why we should doubt that. Dimitar he has done well in a lot of games recently but we prefer to play with one striker.

“When we got the man sent off on Wednesday there was no need to bring a striker on because all we were trying to do was go over the line in terms of defending.”

There’s the rub. Although Berbatov’s talent lies undiminished his value to the side reduces by the week. With Ferguson’s devotion to the lone-striker system fixed, the Bulgarian has little opportunity to turn around the doubters.

Could the Bulgarian move on this summer? Two years remain on the player’s contract and United’s typical amortisation of asset values means the club will take between £10 – £15 million from any potential suitors.

Although with transfer funds seemingly highly restricted there is no guarantee that the manager will receive any money from player sales.

However, there is little doubt with Rooney, Michael Owen, Federico Macheda, Danny Wellbeck, Mame Biram Diouf and now Javier Hernández on the books that seven into one simply doesn’t fit.

Berbatov may well come out on the negative side of that equation, with a move away from the club this summer.

Carrick needs five good performances between now and the end of May to convince his many critics that his future is not similar.

Carrick is slow starter

October 1, 2009 Tags: Shorts 1 comment

Sir Alex Ferguson offered an unusual explanation for Michael Carrick’s omission from the Manchester United team this season – the former Spurs player is a notorious slow starter. According to the United manager Carrick doesn’t get going until October, explaining why the midfielder has started just three matches this campaign. Carrick has been repeatedly left out in favour of Anderson, Darren Fletcher and Paul Scholes.

“I think we had a very good team performance tonight in terms of our football,” said Ferguson after United’s victory over Wolfsburg at Old Trafford last night.

“I think Michael [Carrick] and Anderson in central midfield had particularly good games for us.

“It doesn’t do him [Carrick] any harm in scoring a goal, but he really did enjoy himself tonight,”

“We think that he’s always slow to start the seasons since he’s come to us and it’s normally about October that he gets into his stride, and we’re seeing that.”

Carrick joined United in an £18 million deal during the summer of 2006 and has been pivotal to the club securing three Premier League titles in a row.

The accused

August 24, 2009 Tags: , , Opinion 9 comments

In the euphoric midst of United’s demolition of Wigan on Saturday, fans could be forgiven for failing to notice the director’s box at the DW stadium. There, sat behind United director Sir Bobby Charlton, were several United players. They say a picture paints a thousand words and the image of Michael Carrick, Ji-Sung Park and Oliveira Anderson in their club suits spoke volumes. The three players, who were once considered vital members of United’s first team squad, looked isolated and anxious. Defendants soon to enter the dock might be an apt analogy for the three, who have caused so much debate amongst United fans. How has it come to this? It’s time to take a closer look at the alleged crimes of those now known as ‘the accused’.

Michael Carrick: accused of being an overpriced and inadequate replacement for Roy Keane, his arrival caused much disquiet amongst the United faithful. However, Carrick formed a formidable partnership with Paul Scholes, leading United to a ninth Premier League title in 2007. Carrick’s supporters will also point to last season’s match against Inter Milan as a true reflection of the player’s quality. But it’s a worry that all of the doubts harboured about Carrick when he first signed for the club remain three years on. Here are the charges:

  • Failure to exert any authority even against mediocre opposition (evidence: Burnley away). Few United fans would expect Carrick to routinely dominate against top teams like Chelsea but after three years there has been no improvement in Carrick’s ability to dictate the flow of games
  • Lack of leadership. Carrick is the last person the team can look to for inspiration
  • Lack of goals. He has never scored more than four Premier League goals. In comparison to his English peers such as Lampard and Gerrard, it’s embarrassing.

Ji-Sung Park: few United fans had heard of the South Korean prior to his move to United from PSV Eindhoven in 2005. There was even the suspicion that the player was bought solely to sell shirts in Asia. Four years on and here are the charges:

  • Offers United nothing but work-rate. Park seems incapable of consistently putting in the excellent performances of the standard seen in the Champions League semi-final against Barcelona the season before last
  • Lack of goals. Three goals over the last two seasons is not good enough.

Oliveira Anderson: during his first season at the club United fans saw the Brazilian as a potential successor to Paul Scholes. Remember the player’s duels with Gerard and Fabregas the season before last? But Anderson’s development has not gone to plan. He’s clearly very talented but after two years the former Porto midfielder has made limited progress. Here are the charges:

  • Lack of goals. There was hope in Munich but it’s fading fast
  • Lack of fitness. How many games has Anderson looked exhausted after an hour?
  • Poor positioning, movement, and decision making.

The accusation: each is guilty as charged. The verdict: United’s judge, jury and executioner Sir Alex Ferguson holds the answer.

Actually lads it was a penalty

April 27, 2009 Tags: , , Shorts 4 comments

Sometimes it seems there’s one media law for United and another for everybody else. Take this Sunday’s game for example. The media consensus is that United were given a penalty that should never have been and that Spurs were ‘robbed’ of a potential win as a result. In fact Heurelio Gomes’ foul on Michael Carrick was just that, by any interpretation of the law. Gomes took both man and ball – and it really doesn’t matter which came first for a foul to be given. Meanwhile, Wilson Palacios’ disgraceful two-footed knee high lunge at Ronaldo went unreported in many media outlets. It all goes to prove the old adage that it’s always better to print the story rather than the facts.