At the start of the season, Manchester United fans would have hoped this Sunday would have been a day of celebration. They would have dreamed that they were lifting a 21st Premier League title in the warm spring sun. Instead, it was a nothing fixture, a fairly pointless 1-0 victory over a poor Watford team. But there was a significant moment in the 84th minute, as Michael Carrick walked off the Old Trafford pitch for the final time. Well, until he starts playing in Soccer Aid anyway.
It’s always sad when a player is forced to retire, be it through injury, old age or illness. Their entire life has been focused on one thing; being a professional footballer. Then, almost as quickly as they got it, it’s taken away from them. The rest of their life is suddenly stretched out in front of them, possibly with no purpose or direction.
With Carrick, there is an extra level of sadness. Not only is he a club legend, but there genuinely might not be a player at his level left in the game. There certainly isn’t at the club. At 36, he is retiring as United’s best central midfielder. Don’t forget, that’s in a squad including the former most expensive signing of all time.
For evidence of that, just look at the ball he played to Mata to create the opening goal on Sunday. From inside his own half, Carrick deftly clipped a ball to the edge of the Watford area, putting Mata through. That’s a 40-yard pass dropped onto a postage stamp. Nobody else in the United team can regularly pull that pass off, never mind do it while looking like they’re wearing slippers.
Pogba clearly has an incredible passing ability and the vision to pull it off, but often seems consumed with the urge to be flamboyant. Several times this season his choices have frustrated, rather than wowed. Carrick never seems to make the incorrect decision, deciding what pass would be best for the team in any particular situation.
I hear you cry, ‘what about Matic?’ Yes, the Serbian is Mourinho’s ‘island of personality,’ and seems very happy to receive the ball in tough situations, another of Carrick’s stronger traits. Matic also excels at making interceptions and tackles, as Carrick has throughout his career. But he doesn’t have that same range of passing, that same vision, that has elevated Carrick to world-class levels.
So, this summer, United’s main transfer target is a midfielder to replace Carrick. Someone to replace a player who has played 109 minutes of Premier League football. Of course, this is an absolutely impossible task. Jose is looking for a midfielder who can pass, intercept, tackle, dictate the tempo, create chances and lead the team. I honestly don’t think anyone like that currently exists. Prove me wrong, Jose, prove me wrong.
However, this is not the end of Carrick’s story. He’s now moving into the backroom staff as a coach, hopefully, to spend the next few months tutoring Pogba. Carrick has said he is excited about this new chapter of his life and I think United fans should be too. He is intelligent and the way he played the game suggests he has an intimate understanding of how it functions. He’s also worked under two of the most successful managers of the modern age; you would hope he’s picked up a few pointers.
Rather than the period of celebration United fans had hoped for at this stage of the season, we find ourselves mourning the retirement of a legend. We shouldn’t be too sad though, the man has had a brilliant career. 5 Premier League titles, 3 League Cups, 1 FA Cup, 1 Europa League, 1 Club World Cup, 1 Champions League, 1 haircut. The irreplaceable, Michael.