The startling decline of Michael Carrick sums up Manchester United's midfield woes


A lot like fans of Oasis, those who say things like “If Michael Carrick was Spanish, he’d be regarded as world class” refuse to look facts in the face about the true worth of either the band or the player.

Oasis aren’t any good at making music, and Carrick is no longer good enough to continue his career as Manchester United’s best midfielder. In fact, it may be at the point where he no longer is United’s best midfielder, and he shouldn't be at the club at all. United no longer need to buy a midfielder in order to have a partner for Carrick, they need to buy one to replace him, and then another one to partner that replacement.

That is not to say that it’s entirely Carrick’s fault.

At 32, he’s struggled to overcome a couple of recent injuries. Already a slow starter, and already just slow, he appears unable to get back to his good years of form.

It seems that he’s already back to his 2009-2011 form, when he was little more than a passenger, but his worst qualities are coming out again. This is a season that United needed senior players to take up the slack as David Moyes takes time to adjust to his new role, and instead Carrick has become cowardly and ineffective.

He has three abilities of note - to intercept opposition passes, to take the ball off the defence, and to play the ball forward. He is failing to do them.

His interceptions are no longer enough to stem the tide as United are often overwhelmed tactically and physically. He seems scared to receive the ball, and even more scared when it comes to playing an ambitious pass.

It may be confirmation bias, but he appears to now favour short passes to anyone, regardless of any pressure the recipient might be under. He has always been poor at tracking midfield runners, he has always been poor at leading from the midfield, and he has always been poor at setting an example for younger players. Now his positive contributions are either waning or absent, there’s little point in him staying.

When first signed in 2006 Carrick was, surprisingly, exactly what his new side needed to get back to success.

His ability to find the wingers or strikers on the counter-attack made him one of the most important United signings of the decade. With Giggs on the left and Cristiano Ronaldo, Louis Saha, Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez to aim at, they could make the most of his talents.

Alongside him were Paul Scholes, Darren Fletcher or Owen Hargreaves, all at or near their peaks (in Scholes’ career, you could argue he had two or three peaks depending on where he was playing).

Now, it’s not quite the same.

On the wings are Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia or Nani, all of whom do not deserve to be at any club. Adnan Januzaj is still too green to trust, and Juan Mata is yet to reach form. Wayne Rooney is a one-paced huffer and Robin van Persie doesn’t seem interested in his new manager.

Carrick was at his most useful when United could play with verve, confidence and pace, none of which they appear capable of now. Carrick is the wrong midfielder for the players United have now.

In midfield he can play with Fletcher - who has recently had major surgery, Tom Cleverley - who is Tom Cleverley, Phil Jones - who is reckless enough to get injured in most games and not cut out for central midfield. Marouane Fellaini might be a useful signing, but more likely further up the pitch.

Carrick’s personality, which seemed to be reserved, shy and unwilling to take the lead, was acceptable when there were other players willing to take responsibility, and when he wasn’t the senior player on the team. But now Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra are close to leaving, or close to leaving and unable to play well.

Van Persie is disgruntled, and Rooney is merely functional, and in no way qualified to be captain. Mata can be regarded as a senior player through his sheer ability, but his confidence has suffered at Chelsea, and he’s never been a great leader. Scholes has long gone, along with Tevez and Ronaldo.

Carrick’s demeanour and his particular talents - which are fading - are at odds with what United need. They need a player with dynamism, with a desire to take responsibility and to provide the pace in a one-note team.

Moyes could buy plenty more players to suit Carrick, or he could buy two midfielders capable of replacing Carrick and his even less capable partners, and make the most of three excellent players and Rooney in attack.

Carrick has not earned the right to be trusted or respected at United, and United don’t have the money to indulge his decline, either.

He was United’s best midfielder of the last few years, and that was an indictment of the neglect by Sir Alex Ferguson.

In the past, they could get away with that, but with the problems mounting that is no longer the case.


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