Eventually, the wondrous, ageless legs of Ryan Giggs and the astute passing of Paul Scholes will be a thing of highlight reels for United fans. They continually seem to defy odds, and age, each time they step on the pitch, but the time will come when they hang up their boots for our club. Like me, most fans have been dreading that day for a few seasons now, all the while thinking about who will not only take their place, but who will be a lynchpin in our midfield.
So, when Michael Carrick came to United, I was reservedly hopeful that he could be the future staple in our utterly important, and usually dominant, midfield. He seemed to defy naysayers and critics alike when he moved from Tottenham, helping United win the league in each of his first three seasons with the club. Our team was stellar each season, and some people might’ve overlooked the contribution that Michael Carrick made for us during those campaigns. I, on the other hand, have not. His role as a holding midfielder was transformed into a player who could push forward and challenge the net. He gave us the ability to hold in central or to spread the ball out wide. His uber accurate passing was something we were accustomed to seeing from Paul Scholes. At the end of the 2006/2007 campaign, Carrick had netted six goals for the club accompanied by five assists. While that sounds modest for someone we paid 14 million pounds for, it was his ability to control the midfield that really paid dividends.
Entering the 2007/2008 campaign, United was determined to defend their much earned silverware from the previous season. Although he picked up a few nicks on the way, Michael Carrick was undoubtedly one of our most vital players in a campaign that culminated with Carling Cup, EPL, and Champions League glory. The 2008/2009 season started a tad bleak for Carrick as he missed a handful of early games due to injury, but he bounced back nicely and helped United secure a third successive English Premier League title. All United fans will remember his memorable, late winner away against Wigan to secure us an ever-important three points.
And while we were only one point away from a fourth straight title in 2009/2010, most United fans want to file the memories of the last year or so in a box somewhere. In a campaign where Rooney had the season of his life, we were never close enough to Chelsea to win the league title and the absolutely gut-wrenching loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League is still something that many fans, including myself, look back on and shake their head. We don’t even need to get into the Rooney saga, do we? Lost in the shuffle of a season where we only won a consolation Carling Cup trophy is the fact that the Michael Carrick of yesteryear was gone. In a season that plagued us with injury, he was forced to play in our back four, a place that he was like a fish out of water. He had a few shining moments, most notably his late winner against Wolfsburg in the Champions League.
But as we embark on first quarter of the 2010/2011 campaign, the question really is, “Where is Michael Carrick?” His form has been something you’d see from someone who hasn’t had any first team appearances. He has lacked consistency in a time, and place, where we need consistency the most. A few years ago, our midfield seemed like a haven for depth. We had Carrick, Fletcher, Park, Nani, Giggs, O’Shea, Ronaldo, Scholes, and we had just acquired Hargreaves. This seemed like the least of our worries – out of sight, out of mind. Now, with the exit of Ronaldo (and Tevez), the reassignment of O’Shea, the inevitable retirement of Giggs and Scholes, the debacle of Hargreaves, and the constant midfield injuries, this is a time when we need the Michael Carrick of 2008. We saw flashes of him in the Champions League 2nd leg against Bursaspor, but what of it? A good game here and there isn’t enough. It’s not enough for the players and it’s certainly not enough for the fans.
He’s gonna be 30 years old next year, and normally 30 is where players go to die. And while he’ll never be the Giggs or Scholes that United have loved for close to two decades, he has the chance to remain a staple in our midfield until he’s 35, just like our two legends. So, Michael Carrick, what we need from you is the hunger and desire to restore our midfield to the powerhouse it should be. If you’re up to the task, I can tell you that you have an army of Red standing at your defense.