Magnifico Carrick

Posted by Mark Payne

Julian Finney/Getty ImagesMichael Carrick: Fewer England caps than Kieron Dyer and Stewart Downing

We are often told that fans vote with their feet. Whilst this is undoubtedly true, in many cases they also vote with their voices, and in particular with their chants. As the Manchester United faithful left West London on Saturday, 15 points clear of Man City at the time and full of glee, they saluted one player in unison for 20 minutes.

- Carrick enjoys Scholes comparison
- Pirlo fears United and Madrid

The ever-modest Michael Carrick was clearly delighted to hear a song that compared him to Paul Scholes, but assumed it was "tongue-in-cheek." The truth of the matter is that the comparison runs much deeper. On a purely personal level, the two men are similar. Both shun the limelight and interview sparingly; they prefer to let their football do the talking.

In days gone by, when a game has needed calming down, the presence of Scholes has visibly settled the others on the pitch. Carrick is now doing the same job for United and his second-half performance against Queens Park Rangers was a master class in serene decision-making. Gary Neville had predicted as much, pointing out on his Twitter feed that the experience of Carrick in the spine of the side would be important at Loftus Road. "This is my seventh season here and the older you get, playing a lot of games all helps," said Carrick last week.

There is a general assumption that if Carrick had been born Spanish or Italian he would be more lauded as a footballer. Barcelona's Xavi hailed the United midfielder as a "complete player" ahead of the 2009 Champions League final and the man who was labeled a "magnifico" by Gazzetta dello Sport after United had beaten Roma, has certainly been criminally overlooked by England. Although the recent recipient of a call-up, he still has fewer caps than Kieron Dyer, Ashley Young and Stewart Downing.

The English have always appreciated goal-scoring midfielders. Carrick was never going to break into the England team when hot shots such as Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard were about. The problem was that those two almost never passed to each other, both waiting for the ball to be linked from defence so they could work their magic. Exactly the kind of job Carrick would have done if he were there.

Carrick's lack of goals and direct assists is often a stick his critics use to beat him, but this doesn't tell the full story of his game. In many ways, Carrick operates as a sweeper for the midfield. When the ball runs loosely out of defence, or a winger can't find the space to run into, they know they can rely on Carrick to shepherd the play into a more fertile part of the pitch. Carrick has completed more passes than any other Premier League player in the past four years. That is an impressive achievement and must make sobering reading for those who pick England squads.

Carrick's role in the current United setup is similar to that of Denis Irwin in the '90s. Although the two play in different positions, both are blessed with magnificent reliability. Regular match-goers will struggle to remember the last time Carrick made a mistake. As with Irwin, his play is always tidy and his teammates build themselves from the bedrock he provides.

United fans have always had a plethora of flair players to celebrate, collar-stiffening legends who absorb all the attention. But beside these men have always been the modest and efficient teammates who make their showmanship possible. Carrick is such a player, and the fans have now shown they appreciate him too.

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