There is no hiding from the fact that last season was a bad one for Manchester United. Words such as ‘transitional’ can be used to ease the pain; but really, every fan knows that regardless of the circumstances, last term was awful. Few of the squad can look back on their performances under David Moyes with any pride, Wayne Rooney and Adnan Januzaj the only real standouts in a campaign which brought Red Devils’ fans little joy. The midfield was in particular culpable, having needed strengthening for years, without Sir Alex Ferguson’s influential presence. So used to the likes of Cleverley and Andersen being inept have Manchester United fans become that they no longer even get angry at their underperformances anymore, disappointment replaced with exasperation.
Michael Carrick on the other hand has been a top performer for Manchester United since signing from Tottenham back in 2006, his superior reading of the game and incredible ball retention proving invaluable during his trophy laden time at Old Trafford. Last term though, Carrick became a victim of his own excellence. With United too often dominating possession, pumping in crosses, yet failing to find that final killer ball, the team was crying out for more guile, creativity and power. Much criticism has fallen on Carrick in this respect. Poor performances have created low expectations for the likes of Tom Cleverley, but with things going poorly, it was Carrick who fans expected to stand up and be counted.
However, such expectations are really rather unfair; Carrick has never been an attacking midfielder, or a powerful box-to-box player, he is not there to provide copious amounts of goals and assists. Michael Carrick’s job is, and always has been, to act as a metronome, recycling possession and keep play ticking over. The former Spurs man has fulfilled that job description to a high standard for years now, and last season was no different. Whilst it is of course frustrating for fans to watch their side dominate possession with no end product only to see Carrick make yet another sideways pass, to expect him to all of a sudden become a different player is unfair. Carrick should not be judged on the number of goals he scores and sets up any more than David Silva should be judged for the number of tackles and interceptions he makes.
When compared with other players who perform a similar role to the one he performs for Manchester United, Michael Carrick proves that he is a quality player who had a solid season. His pass completion rate of 88% matches that of Xabi Alonso, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Gareth Barry and even Andrea Pirlo. Carrick’s goal and assist output is not impressive, but as earlier argued, that is not what his role demands, and Alonso, Arteta and Busquets all put up similar numbers. Furthermore, although heavily criticised for his lack of creativity last season, it is worth noting Carrick created more chances than Schweinsteiger, Alonso, Busquets and Arteta last season. There is also something of a myth that Carrick does not play the ball forward, but of his 1997 passes in the Premier League last season, 1477 of those were hit forwards, a higher number than Sweinsteiger, Arteta or Pirlo.
It is in his defensive output that Carrick really shines however. Whilst his 43 tackles won marks only an average contribution, Carrick’s impressive reading of the game led to him making a massive 80 interceptions, a number much higher than contributed by any of the aforementioned players. Carrick has become a scapegoat for a flawed transfer policy that has seen Manchester United not sign the central midfielders needed to compliment Carrick and provide the thrust and guile missing from his game. Ander Herrera will go some way to filling that creative void; whilst rumours also persist that Manchester United will sign Arturo Vidal, a player that would provide that physicality, power, thrust and so much more.
What is certain is that regardless of who Louis van Gaal does bring in to bolster the United midfield, Carrick will still be a crucial component. Although Carrick’s output last season was down on 2012/13, given how poor the club was, it is impressive that he was still able to maintain such a high standard. Whenever a club the size of Manchester United underperforms to the extent that they did last term, criticism will always be broad and harsh; however, blame should not be placed on Carrick’s shoulders. News of his injury this week should come as a real concern to Manchester United fans and new manager Louis van Gaal, because if the Red Devils are to return to the Champions League next season, Carrick will have a vital role to play.
Stats based on league performances for the 2013/14 season and courtesy of Squawka, who place Carrick amongst the top 20 midfielders for possession stats from Europe’s top 5 leagues, and in the top 10 for defensive stats.