The midfield is an issue that we have refused to address yet only recently regretting. For years, Sir Alex Ferguson would ignore this gaping hole in the team, failing to replace Ryan Giggs, Roy Keane or Paul Scholes whilst allowing a talent like Paul Pogba to depart, but could justify this by endless success. However, only one season under David Moyes has brought to light how much an issue this is. The biggest problem is that our best midfielder, Michael Carrick, should be the first to be replaced.
For seven trophy-laden seasons, Carrick has been a key performer. He is a fine midfielder, hugely better than anyone else in his position, but unfortunately he is also a weakness. The new manager’s first priority should be to rebuild the centre of the midfield and would be wise to follow England’s lead and build for the future without Carrick.
The point must not be misunderstood. Carrick has been a fantastic servant and is still capable of top performances but his role in the team, and how he shapes the team’s dynamics are detrimental to our progress. As with Giggs, his replacements within the club do not look good enough. Tom Cleverley, hindered by plummeting confidence, does not have the stature capable of being a United midfielder. Anderson should be long gone, whilst Darren Fletcher cannot stamp his authority on the game anymore. Marouane Fellaini was even given up on by his biggest admirer Moyes so is unlikely to take the role of midfield enforcer.
And that is Carrick’s problem- he is no enforcer. He plays in a deep role taken up in other teams by the likes of John Obi Mikel of Chelsea or Claude Makelele before him. Carrick is a vastly superior player than this mould of defensive midfielder but his tackling is not good enough to be this. He has been deployed in a deep position to spray the ball as a ‘quarterback’ but this is as useless as using an American football position as a tactic. His tackling is not good enough for him to play deep, his passing too good to be wasted on speculative long balls at the back.
He rarely ventures forward, which is a great betrayal of his talents. He is a brilliant passer but only when he is passing forward. Too often, he pushes the ball sideways, instantly slowing down our attacks. He is a calm finisher but he is never in the position to exercise this. Of course, these are tactical decisions enforced upon him, but this is a waste of his talent.
Though inheriting his shirt number, it would be unfair to compare Carrick with Roy Keane, as Carrick is not a swash-buckling box-to-box midfielder, a position which is dying out, despite Yaya Toure’s impressive season. However, Carrick’s lack of pace means that he struggles to dominate the game as the Ivorian, for example, or indeed Keane could. As the most prominent player on the pitch, United need a central midfielder who can grab the game by the scruff of the neck.
Carrick’s best performances have been in Europe, when he is pressed less, and when he is supported by more than one other central midfielder. If Louis Van Gaal is appointed, maybe there would be a role for Carrick in his favoured 4-3-3 formation? It is not Carrick’s fault that he has faced packed midfielders every week when only accompanied by one solitary partner so it has been criminal that there has been a lack of investment here, especially when money has been spent on ineffective wingers and an unnecessary amount of Number 10s.
The key to our success over the last twenty years, due of course to Ferguson, has been our ability to adapt and rebuild future teams. Carrick has been a fantastic midfielder but it is time for him to be replaced. We have replaced bigger influences on the team and in many ways other players have prospered because of this, such as Cristiano Ronaldo’s rise after Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s departure. Slow, unadventurous and lame in the tackle, Carrick summarises United’s ineffectual midfield. His best qualities are only dependent on those around him.
We have needed a tackler for a long time. Presuming that Pogba is now unlikely to return, a purchase of Alex Song, familiar with Robin van Persie, or Kevin Strootman depending on his return from injury, would provide us with more energy in midfield. It is the area of the pitch where a star name is not necessary, but a solid, uncompromising presence is.
Only one season ago, Carrick was one of the nominees for PFA Player of the Year after collecting his fifth Premier League medal. He is the club’s best midfielder by a long way, and has performed no worse than most of his colleagues. However, the midfield is the first area on the pitch that should be rebuilt, and this unfortunately has to be done without Carrick.