“It’s hard to believe it’s not Scholes, it’s Carrick, you know”. That’s the song that Manchester United fans chant to show their appreciation for midfield anchorman Michael Carrick who has been spraying passes across the Old Trafford turf since 2006.
Although he’s turning 34 next month, the extent of his influence on United’s style of play with his vision, fantastic distribution and calmness in possession seems to be increasing, and both performances and results drop noticeably when he is sidelined through injury.
As good as Carrick is, he’s not getting any younger, thus this article suggests players who could potentially replace him in that vital holding role at the base of United’s midfield when he does choose to call it a day.
In recent seasons it seems as though every time a transfer window rolls around the name Ilkay Gundogan gets linked with Manchester United, and with good reason.
At just 24 years of age, Gundogan could easily run the show at United for the next decade and he would certainly breathe new life into the midfield with his high energy, dynamism, box-to-box running and an all-action style which resembles that of Juventus star Arturo Vidal or Real Madrid’s Luka Modric.
Despite missing Germany’s triumphant World Cup campaign last year through injury, many see Gundogan as the natural replacement to current captain Bastian Schweinsteiger as their national team’s holding midfielder and at club level he has won the Bundesliga title, the German Cup and even scored in the 2013 Champions League final.
So, could a deal actually happen? The answer: yes. Not only can’t his current club Borussia Dortmund provide Champions League football for next season but Gundogan’s contract with the Bundesliga outfit is due to expire at the end of the 2015-16 season and he has decided not to sign a new deal.
You would think BVB would be open to letting him go this summer in order to avoid losing him on a free transfer next summer, as was the case with current Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski in 2014.
In the past few days it has even been rumoured that the German international is already close to completing a move to Manchester United which would without doubt be a great signing for the Old Trafford club.
In a mad summer in which they sold the likes of Dejan Lovren, Luke Shaw and Adam Lallana, Southampton managed to hold onto their star midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin last year despite his request to leave.
It’s almost impossible for most footballers to play again for a team after handing in a transfer request, however Schneiderlin got his head down, accepted the fact that the Saints simply weren’t prepared to let him go and put in some highly impressive displays over the course of the 2014-15 season as he helped Southampton to their best ever top flight finish and, in the process, attracted the attention of some of England’s biggest clubs.
Despite Southampton’s success and the fact that he’s played at St Mary’s for seven years, Schneiderlin has openly expressed his desire to play Champions League football and hence it seems unlikely that he’ll stay for another season.
The 25 year-old reads the game extremely well, isn’t afraid to shoot and his physical presence allows him to dominate tussles in the middle of the park. Over the past year he’s established himself as a regular in the France squad and he is comfortably regarded as one of the best defensive midfielders in the Premier League.
Schneiderlin is exactly what Manchester United currently lack but need in order to become successful once again, and it’s been widely reported over the past few days that United are confident of securing a smooth deal for the player due to their positive relationship with Southampton.
Kevin Strootman has been on the radar of Man United for some time now and ever since Louis van Gaal took over the reins at Old Trafford their Dutch connection has only fuelled more speculation.
Strootman is currently out injured and his promising career has been curtailed by multiple serious injury problems which saw him undergo knee ligament surgery and forced him to miss last year’s World Cup.
Should he eventually recover, the 25 year-old has what it takes to adapt to English football because he mirrors Carrick in his ability to control possession and in his range of passing, but he also isn’t afraid to put his foot in and make tackles, similar to former United captain Roy Keane.
It’s worth noting that since his long-term injury issues began to manifest themselves, Strootman hasn’t received much affection from the Roma fans and this could influence him if United attempt to sign him.
Additionally, Van Gaal recognises what a fine holding midfielder Strootman is and having worked together before, the player will have no problems implementing the manager's philosophy on the pitch. The general consensus is that it’s only a matter of time before a deal to take Strootman to Old Trafford goes ahead and he’d be a highly valuable acquisition.
Pogba left Manchester United on a free transfer in 2012 after complaining that he didn’t play enough first team football. Fast forward to 2015, and the enigmatic Frenchman has played a significant part in three of the four consecutive seasons in which Juventus have won the Serie A title, he’s played a full 90 minutes in a Champions League final, been earmarked by Italian legend Andrea Pirlo to become the greatest midfielder in Europe and is now regarded as one of, if not the most coveted young midfielder in world football.
However some pundits and football fans still aren’t convinced by Pogba, with a few going as far as to say that he’s overrated. Whilst he is far from the finished article, Pogba truly has all the attributes of an all-round central midfield player.
His vision, trickery, technical skill and strength allow him to both attack and defend in equal and high proficiency and his passion for the game means that he’ll give his all when he’s on the pitch.
Should he continue along his current development trajectory and add experience and intelligence to his unquestionable natural talent, this 22 year-old is almost guaranteed to become the true world class midfielder of his generation and it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s battling it out with the likes of Neymar and Eden Hazard for the Ballon d’Or award once Messrs Ronaldo and Messi have retired.
Although a return to Old Trafford is unlikely, Pogba himself has admitted that his future is unclear and, who knows, the Champions League finalist may be lining up for the Red Devils next season before lighting up the 2016 European Championships for France on home turf.
United may potentially already have the perfect player to step into Carrick’s shoes within their current squad in the form of Dutch international Daley Blind. The 25 year-old already shares many essential traits with Carrick such as his excellent awareness on the pitch and his uncanny ability to retain possession.
Although he’s played a lot of football at full back in recent years and is considered by some as merely a utility man, Blind operated as a holding midfielder for a large proportion of his first season with United so, after admitting that he suffered from fatigue towards the end of his first season in English football, he’ll now be familiar with the demands of the role.
Additionally, after the Netherlands’ highly successful 2014 World Cup campaign both Blind and Van Gaal joined Man United and it’s obvious that the pair have a great working relationship.
Blind has full confidence in the methods of the United manager and likewise, Van Gaal trusts that his fellow countryman has the quality to deliver calm, assured performances wherever he is on the pitch.
Blind even scored a couple of last minute equalisers away to West Ham and West Brom to salvage some crucial points for the 13-time Premier League winners last season and it’s very likely that we’ll see him playing just in front of the back four in the upcoming campaign.
Don’t get me wrong, Michael Carrick has life in him yet, but United’s dominance of the English game over the past 20 years has been predicated on strong, productive midfield characters from Roy Keane to Paul Scholes and the likes of Gundogan, Schneiderlin, Strootman, Pogba and Blind certainly fit the bill.
Who knows, United may not even sign a central midfielder this summer or next – Van Gaal may deem it necessary to strengthen other areas of his team. Or perhaps they’ll sign a player not even mentioned in this article, such as Argentina’s Lucas Biglia, Feyenoord captain Jordy Clasie or Portuguese youngster William Carvalho. Only time will tell.
Who should Manchester United sign to replace Michael Carrick? Let us know below!