For nearly a year I've been harangued on Twitter by an account dedicated to attempting to point out and prove that Carrick is sh*t. It's been an amusing journey and experience, for I think, and always have thought, that Carrick is a very reliable and good footballer. Needless to say, that a year after its creation the account has a very low follower count.
With the announcement of the England squad for Euro 2012 last week I jokingly suggested to some friends that it must have been Roy Hodgson who was behind it. Carrick of course made neither the squad nor the back-up list as Gerrard, Lampard, Barry, Parker, Milner and Henderson were preferred. Internet outrage ensued, and then subsided as it seemed that Carrick had all but retired from international football. This still irks me though.
Until recently, many fans forever thought of Carrick as the man who was bought to replace Roy Keane and ultimately 'bottled it' in Rome (2009). Carrick was of course never bought to directly replace Roy - for some reason a change of style was deemed necessary and a passer was bought to replace an enforcer.
Carrick's first season was one of general learning for the squad as Ronaldo and Rooney started to blossom. His second was the one where under-appreciation of him really began though. In a side that was full of fair players who'd attempt to beat a man and take risks, he was the calming, reliable player at the heart of the side. It was whilst the side had so many entertaining players that the idea that Carrick was boring and unnecessarily slowed United's play started to emerge.
Possession is maybe somewhat underrated in England. Most English sides are based on the idea that when in possession they'll try to make the most of it in a very short space of time. Carrick is capable of quick, one-touch football as many moves this last season have shown, but he's arguably at his best when hurried and pressured. He never hesitates to play the ball to a man in space, even if that does mean passing backwards. After all, if you have the ball, the other team can't score.
Somewhat amusingly Carrick's stats for the last season show that the majority of his passes actually do go forwards. Indeed, it was he who played the most forward passes when United played away to City in the league - a stagnant performance in which he was the only United player to have performed well.
Those who watch United and Carrick closely will understand that he's so much more than a ball-player. Arguably his most work for United though is done off the ball. Time has made him clever and given him a good understanding of the game. His positioning is almost always spot on and he can read where passes are going and what opponents are doing with ease. It's no surprise that his introduction into the side in the autumn coincided with United conceding fewer goals. His shielding of the back four with well-timed tackles and interceptions proved vital.
Carrick's always adopted something of an 'unsung' label and true enough, Scholes' return epitomised that. Fergie and fans were lavish in their praise of Carrick following Scholes' comeback but failed to acknowledge that he was probably at his best before then, playing with authority as the midfield responsibility fell on his shoulders.
I'd argue that it was Carrick's consistency that allowed Scholes to settle so quickly upon his return. Many felt that Scholes allowed Carrick to play with more confidence but I think it was a mutual transaction where they both benefitted from each other. So much so, that we learnt that whilst still rash, Sholes can actually tackle. Why? Because a deeper and reliable Carrick was always back cover space meaning that Scholes would never be forced into a desperate lunge as more powerful, quicker players went past him. Instead, Paul was able to pick his moments to tackle better and time them perfectly most of the time.
So, Carrick and England. Roy Hodgson confirmed Michael had made himself unavailable for selection unless he'd be first choice. A bit arrogant some might say but somewhat understandably he wouldn't want to be fourth choice and never play. His relationship with England has been stutter to say the least. Most footballers would be happy to retire with 22 caps but his have been dragged out since 2001. He's unfortunately to be playing at the same time as the untouchable Lampard and Gerrard - it's only a recent thing that England have discovered that they necessitate an anchor man and Barry has been favoured in that role.
It made sense that Hodgson would say: "I'd have to be convinced he was better than the four I've selected" in order to try and persuade Carrick to come out of retirement so he could select him. Hodgson after all has to back the players he has picked. The odd thing is that it should have been easy for Roy, he should have been assuring Carrick that he'd be first choice. Gerrard's a good footballer but his injury-hit season has not been a good one - he's not in form. Lampard as ever has got goals but it's been an erratic season for him and his Champions League final performance was abject, it's rare to see him so overrun - he's fortunate Chelsea won the penalty shootout or his performance would be remember much like Carrick's in Rome. Barry's a league winner and had a good season but bias and sense tell me Carrick's better than him. Parker's a better footballer than he gets credit for and maybe he should be the one starting next to Carrick with Gerrard or Lampard ahead of them. Either way, Carrick should be going to Euro 2012 as first choice for England.
Having had his best season for United and arguably been their player of the year, to not see him on the plane to the Euros is crazy. Hodgson had the power to make it happen but didn't. Bizarrely, Carrick still has his critics and ardent haters. Some fans will never be able to appreciate a player who does all the simple things to a high level. Carrick knows his limitations and that's what's made him who he is - he doesn't try the things he knows he can't do. I'll finish with a quote from one of the best midfielders of today, Xavi: "Carrick gives United balance... and is a complete player" - England have lacked balance for some time. This was the chance to get it right at a big tournament and on paper, they haven't. As for United, they can enjoy England's best and most in-form midfielder all to themselves.