After impressing at Tottenham Hotspur and getting on the plane to the 2006 World Cup in Germany, Michael Carrick was confirmed as a Manchester United player at the end of July the same year.
Recruited as the direct replacement for Roy Keane, the then 25-year-old was handed the No.16 shirt that was vacated by the departing Red Devils skipper. It was obviously a huge role to fill after the exceptional service and legacy Keane had at Old Trafford but the former West Ham youngster was about to be a part of arguably Man United's most successful period.
Carrick at United
Known for his excellent passing range, good positional sense and his organization, Carrick was partnered with the legendary Paul Scholes in the middle of the park by Sir Alex Ferguson and would hardly miss a game under the greatest manager in the history of British football.
The smooth and slick style of Carrick is not what most United fans are accustomed to having seen men of steel in the middle of the park. Bryan Robson was never afraid to get stuck-in neither was Nicky Butt, Paul Ince and of course Keane himself.
However, Carrick's natural ability to break up play via interceptions, picking the ball of his opponents and plugging the gaps were qualities that Sir Alex loved. He played almost every game since his move in 2006 and was only missing if he was given a rest, was injured or had a rare suspension.
He has the eye for a pass and more often than not he finds his target. His ability to retain possession for United in the Premier League and Champions League in some of the most famous stadiums, in front of sell out crowds was, and still is, a joy to watch. Despite winning many trophies and playing for the biggest club in the country, the 33-year-old kept grounded which made him a dream professional for Ferguson.
Despite playing for the biggest club at the highest level every week, Carrick only has 31 appearances for England and has been overlooked on many occasions in favour of others. He may have been a victim of the 'Gerrard-Lampard debate' with the media and many thinking they could play together.
However, they are two naturally attack minded players and so none had that natural ability to sit in the 'hole' in the middle of the park and be the orchestrator. Their organisational skills as a defensive minded midfielder is lacking and that natural instinct to sense danger from early is also lacking in both Lampard and Gerrard's game.
The likes of Gareth Barry and Scott Parker also got a fair chance ahead of Carrick which must had raised concerns for the 33-year-old. Surely England is used to having robust central midfielders and players who covers the ground quickly but Carrick was a 'modern day' central midfielder similar to the likes of Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso, Andrea Pirlo and Xavi.
He may not be as comfortable taking on players as those mentioned would but his positioning, intelligence, organization, passing ability and the stability provided can match them.
For years, especially after World Cup in 2006, England searched for a midfielder who can put his feet on the ball in an effort to retain possession, get the ball to the feet of the playmakers, organize the team defensively and initiate attacks. The United man had been doing it for Sir Alex in the Premier League consistently and yet still he was always cast aside.
Carrick was instrumental in leading the Red Devils to Champions League glory in 2008 and to the final in 2009 and 2011. He has won countless trophies at Old Trafford but still he was never given a significant role to play in the national team despite having the qualities to solve the problems at hand.
Alonso on Carrick
In July 2010 Xabi Alonso gave is backing to Carrick as the man who could solve England's problems. He said: "Gerrard is a great player. He inspires and leads, he is very capable of making players around him raise their game, but he also needs players alongside to bring the best out of him. I’ve missed a player like Michael Carrick in the England midfield, somebody who knows how to be in the right place at the right time.
"Gerrard gains a lot from having a player like Carrick as a partner, somebody who provides the back-up he needs to be free to bring his power to bear decisively in a game. For me it is important to have players in a team who complement one another. Michael Carrick is a player who makes those around him play, regardless of the fact that maybe he is not the player that shines the most individually."
The behind-the-scenes genius?
The work he does goes unseen most times but what he offers is the reason he is so highly regarded at Old Trafford and why Sir Alex played him in almost every game. The success of Barcelona and Spain has certainly shown the rest of the world and England in particular that a player of Carrick's ability is extremely important in the middle of the park in modern football.
If time could rewind, there is no doubt that he would have featured more for his country but unfortunately for England the midfield maestro is almost at the end of his career.
He may not be the best player individually on the ball and he doesn't score many goals from midfield but Carrick is an outstanding midfielder who makes it easy for others around him. He is perhaps the most under-rated midfielder in world football but United have definitely benefited from his services.
At the end of his playing days he can be proud to have been a central figure in United's most successful period and he will count himself lucky to have played alongside some of the best in the world.
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