Michael Carrick has played his last game for Manchester United, an oddly divisive figure who was at the club for over a decade and experienced an astonishing amount of success. For some, the former Tottenham Hotspur man will be defined by his shortcomings and the big games in which those deficiencies were exposed. For others, the metronomic midfielder was a hugely influential player who replaced Roy Keane by being an entirely different kind of footballer. The truth exists, as it tends to, somewhere in the middle.
Sir Alex Ferguson spent his last few years at Old Trafford obstinately refusing to strengthen the middle of the pitch while consistently picking up trophies, like a man playing table tennis with his wrong hand to challenge himself and still seeing off all-comers. It was a testament to his genius that silverware was accrued on a regular basis.
In the era of social media, viewpoints tend to be extreme and nuance is rarely welcome. It’s not as much fun to look at things objectively (particularly when it comes to football) but Carrick was what he was; a good player. It would be hard to argue that he warrants a place in the canon of United greats and yet his face appears as an avatar on Twitter more often than plenty of superior stalwarts. Such fanatics are clearly making a point to the haters or they’re choosing him for the same reason I used to say The Velvet Underground were my favourite band. The way I figured it, The Beatles didn’t need my help.
In Ferguson’s final season, Carrick was in the form of his life and, in combination with Robin van Persie, was the most important factor in ensuring the managerial great left Old Trafford on a high note. He always managed more forward passes than he was given credit for (in one season more than any other player in the league) and he unquestionably deserved to play for his country more regularly but the fact that he’s been under-appreciated by some does not necessarily warrant greatness being bestowed on him by others.
Carrick was never on a par with the likes of Roy Keane or Bryan Robson but that does not make him worthless. He was found wanting against the European elite but that is simply because he was not one of the world’s great players. Being very good, however, is not to be scoffed at. As the last survivor of the remarkable side that lifted the Champions League in 2008, the midfielder showed remarkable longevity even if his playing time was limited in more recent years.
We live in an age of hyperbole exacerbated by the Internet; measured responses are the exception rather than the rule. Only in the 21st Century could Carrick, an entirely harmless human being who’s really not bad at his job, become a polemical figure.
It’s about time we all took a step back and realised the emperor wasn’t naked nor was he wearing magnificent finery. It was easy enough to believe he wasn’t Scholes but, for over a decade, the unassuming deep-lying midfielder read the game better than almost anyone. We can only hope his understanding of the sport leads to an equally successful career on the sidelines.