News of Michael Carrick’s retirement sent ripples of seismic proportions throughout Manchester United’s core at the end of last season. After years of constant one-year contract extensions, the midfielder finally closed the curtain on his playing career after completing his 12th season at Old Trafford.
Despite making only 34 appearances for England, Carrick has still emerged as one of the outstanding English midfielders during his time.
The only thing preventing him from being regarded amongst the likes of Gerrard, Lampard, Scholes etc is his relative inexperience at international level.
United will now be tasked with replacing the irreplaceable. For years, the club has tried to sign players who seemed ideal to fill the void. However, these signings underachieved massively, causing Carrick to delay his retirement a little while longer.
Many have failed to live up to the standards Carrick has set – even certain players who arrived at the club for a world record fee.
So, how did Carrick become a cult hero amongst United fans? Let’s take a look.
Bucking the trend in English football
Carrick’s arrival from Spurs in summer 2006 indicated Sir Alex Ferguson’s desire to eventually change to a 4-3-3.
Throughout a number of systems – whether it be 4-4-2, 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 or otherwise – Carrick operated in his famous role of deep-lying playmaker.
This role, known as the ‘Regista’, originated from Italian football during the 20th century. Playmakers once dictated play from behind the attackers. Now, they were doing so just in front of the back four.
The most famous example of a player operating such role is Andrea Pirlo. However, success in this style of play requires patience and creative freedom.
Meanwhile, the English game is dictated by a fast-paced and physical style, making the Regista more and more redundant in England’s top-flight.
Nevertheless, a testament to Carrick’s skills as a footballer was his ability to somehow make the role work in the Premier League. Carrick was by no means the quickest or most mobile of players. But this, combined with his ludicrous passing range made him perfect for it.
How he was used
Before Sir Alex shook up his style of play and veered towards a 4-3-3, the gaffer frequently used a 4-4-2. These teams of the late noughties were notorious for their relentless counter-attacking football.
During these times, a partnership of Carrick and Paul Scholes made up the middle of the park for United.
Carrick’s task of sitting deep in front of the back four allowed Scholes to help join the attack. Meanwhile, Carrick pressed pockets of space on the field in order to find the perfect opportunity to release his more mobile team-mates on the counter.
Once Sir Alex implemented an attacking midfielder into his squad, particularly in the 2012/13 season, Carrick’s role was ever more crucial.
With more bodies in attack, the defensive responsibilities for Carrick grew exponentially. Now, as well as linking play from defenders to attackers, he needed to improve his defensive capabilities.
Most recently, Carrick’s appearances for United last season were few and far between. With further injury issues, and Nemanja Matic now in the fold, Carrick’s main source of football came from cup ties.
However, the previous season, Carrick again proved his worth one last time.
The arrival of Paul Pogba provided a sense of dynamism and excitement into the United midfielder that hadn’t been seen for a while. However, he needed a more free role to play his best football.
Carrick at the heart of the midfield – alongside Ander Herrera who acted as the ball-winner in the middle of the park – completed a well-rounded and well-drilled midfield three. However, Carrick began to relinquish the Regista role to Herrera, who enjoyed a remarkable season at the heart of the United midfield.
Now, it seems as though the club is finally making the effort to move into the post-Carrick era.
Carrick’s stats throughout the years
The statistics in the above graphic give the impression that Carrick’s attacking output has declined over the years. In 2012/13, Carrick made 33 key passes throughout the season, while in 2016/17 he tallied just 12.
Continuous struggles with injury could be the culprit. However, one stat that maintained at a high-level of output is his pass completion.
The lowest percentage came during the 2015/16 season with 86%, which is still a remarkable number. The highest in the previous five seasons came in 2014/15, where Carrick completed a whopping 90% of all passes.
What’s even more impressive, is the progress Carrick made in his defensive capabilities as his career neared its hay-day. Carrick reduced the number of fouls he committed per game from 0.89 in 2012/13 to just 0.28 in 2016/17.
While he was winning fewer tackles, his maturity and patience showed in his ability to intercept opponents’ passes.
Carrick went from 1.91 interceptions per game in 2014/15 to 2.3 in 2016/17. He began to embrace the defensive side of his game more, so his age did not become a hindrance.
Michael Carrick will be a player sorely missed at Manchester United for years to come. Throughout a period in the club’s history plagued with uncertainty, Carrick consistently was a reliable figure who managers and players alike all trusted.
He revolutionised what it meant to be a midfielder at Manchester United, causing many to question whether the club will ever manage to create another midfielder of this quality ever again.
Thankfully, Carrick will remain at the club as a coach this season – and hopefully, many more seasons to follow.
His knowledge of the game is unprecedented, and if he is able to pass his intelligence onto the next generation of United players, then we’ll be laughing.
Managers and members of the board will come and go throughout passages in time. But a player like Michael Carrick comes only once in a generation.