When Michael Carrick made his debut for Manchester United against Charlton in 2006, I remember thinking to myself, "Wow. Is this it?".
To me, United were forking out £18.6 million for a guy who simply trotted around the field and passed the ball backwards every time he got it. He looked nervous and uncomfortable in his new surroundings, and without actually doing anything wrong he rarely did anything right!
Carrick was brought in after a sensational season under Martin Jol at Tottenham. Partnering Edgar Davids in the Spurs midfield, Carrick looked like a real pass-master who had the ability to open teams up and also put in a competitive shift in the middle of the park, but when he arrived at Old Trafford, this was not the case.
He never seemed to take on the responsibility of the killer ball, he wasn’t going to be the guy to put in a tough challenge and do the dirty work, he looked unable to get up and down the park fast enough and he wasn’t the kind of player to come thundering into the box to score a goal. Really, you had to wonder what he was actually doing?
The fans weren’t the only ones to notice, as the following season Ferguson splashed out another £17 million on Owen Hargreaves. Hargreaves looked the real deal; he got up and down, made those challenges and was instrumental in United’s 2008 Champions League and Premiership double.
Hargreaves proved to be a formidable antagonism for Carrick on an international level as well, as Carrick struggled to get ahead of many other midfielders on the England circuit.
Fortunately for Carrick however, after a series of serious injuries suffered by Hargreaves, he was yet again promoted to first-team duties.
Again the Carrick of old remained. He did not look confident and did not fulfil what was asked of him, causing many fans to become disillusioned by Ferguson's insistence on selecting him.
However, at the start of the 2012/13 season, with not much competition for the midfield spot at United, Carrick finally looks like the player he was always meant to be.
Playing in a role similar to that of a quarter-back, Carrick stays deep and now reads the game well. His performance against Spurs in particular epitomised his turn of form, putting in a magnificent showing against his former club.
The biggest improvement is his passing forward; Carrick seems to have found his feet at last and is now dominating games for United in midfield. The Carrick of the past seems to be nothing more than a memory.
In my opinion this is down to confidence. Despite always being a regular for United, Carrick constantly had other players breathing down his neck, perhaps he is an individual that needs to know he’s number one, a role which he possessed while at Spurs and West Ham.
Carrick is one of Fergie's first names on the teamsheet of late and one has to say it is deserved.
The stats speak volumes; Carrick averages 2.5 tackles, 2.1 interceptions and 3.3 clearances per match. For those wondering, that's more than any other midfielder in Manchester, including Manchester City players.
Since the beginning of the season, Carrick has completed 91 per cent of his passes, averaging a respectable one key pass per match, in addition to providing the all-important assist four times and scoring once in the process.
The next step for Carrick is to come up with the goods for United on the big stage. In the past, particularly in the Champions League, we have seen him outclassed by players such as Kaka, Gennaro Gattuso, Andres Inesta and Xavi.
At the Bernabeu last week, Carrick found it much more difficult to dictate the tempo the way he does in the Premier League, however it was a far more promising performance by him than of recent years, and with the next leg around the corner United will need Carrick to maintain his level of consistency if they are to progress to the next round.
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