Even in what are potentially the final throes of his Manchester United career, Michael Carrick continues to split opinion like no other. Has the 34-year-old earned a new contract at Manchester United? Or should he be ushered silently through the Old Trafford back door when his contract expires this summer? Be it Louis van Gaal or his managerial replacement, the midfielder’s future will be high on the agenda come May.
Robbie Savage may disagree, but Carrick is football’s true Mr Marmite. Love or hate. Great or not so great. Over-rated or under-rated. England’s most wasted talent, or a player not even worthy of his 34 international caps. Judgements of the midfielder fluctuate from one extreme to another, with no middle ground. In Manchester United’s vapid and deserved defeat to West Brom on Sunday, it was no different, it seems.
Carrick already dictating the play and tempo. Said it time and time again. Irreplacable #MUFC
— The United Stand (@UnitedStandMUFC) March 6, 2016
Carrick’s done brilliantly over the years, but boy do United need to replace him this summer. He’s such a liability in midfield nowadays.
— Liam (@OffsideLiam) March 6, 2016
It is difficult not to invest more into the latter school of thought. Carrick was as listless as his side at The Hawthorns, attempting no shots, making no key passes, registering a passing accuracy of lower than 80%, and making one tackle. With potentially only three months remaining of his Old Trafford career, this is the moment to build a case for the defence. Sunday’s performance merely adds to the prosecution’s growing body of evidence that a new contract should not be forthcoming.
After four consecutive victories in all competitions, Manchester United were back, albeit tentatively. The possibility of Champions League qualification returned, progression in the FA Cup was secured, and a Europa League tie with Liverpool provided a mouthwatering chance to truly capitalise on the renewed positivity surrounding Old Trafford. Van Gaal contrived to remove such good feeling in the only way he can. Over 500 passes, the majority of possession, one shot on target. It was as though the past week and a half had been a delightful dream.
Juan Mata’s idiotic first-half red card made United’s task even more difficult against an excellent West Brom side, but Van Gaal cannot use that as an excuse. Among the Dutchman’s mistakes on Sunday, his substitutions were unforgivable. With the scores level just after the hour mark, and 10-man United holding their own, Morgan Schneiderlin was introduced. Carrick or Ander Herrera – defensive or attacking – would have to be replaced. The outcome was predictable.
Four minutes after Carrick survived and Herrera was removed, United conceded. Van Gaal’s reaction would come ten minutes later. But the plodding Carrick remained on the field. Memphis Depay came on for Marcus Rashford. The final substitution saw Timothy Fosu-Mensah replace Matteo Darmian. When your club is a man and a goal down heading into the final minutes, the manager is often looked towards for inspiration. When that man is Louis van Gaal, a defender replaces a defender. West Brom did not ‘hold on’ for three points; they pushed for another goal, with Carrick a bystander.
Darren Fletcher, a central midfielder cast aside by Van Gaal, was considerably more influential than his counterpart. Carrick made 35 passes into the opposition half; Fletcher made 42. Herrera, despite playing 30 minutes fewer, completed 45. Fletcher won more duels than Carrick, completed more tackles, gained possession more often, and lost the ball on fewer occasions. Carrick was by far the longest-serving United player on the field, enjoying at least four more seasons at the club than any other player. In a time when leadership was required, the stand-in captain was found wanting. In fact, he was barely found at all. If Fletcher was deemed surplus to requirements just over a year ago, Carrick’s position looks untenable.
The former Tottenham midfielder lists five Premier League titles and a Champions League trophy among his 13 pieces of silverware since joining in 2006. His has been an impressive career. But all good things must come to an end. Carrick has scored just two goals and provided two assists in the Premier League since the start of the 2013/14 season in a 68-game sequence. He is no longer of the required standard.
Of the ten oldest Premier League players whose contracts expire in the summer, Carrick is the youngest. It is no coincidence that the majority of those on the list should not be offered a new deal; Carrick is no different. The slow, plodding midfielder has come to personify Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United, a team synonymous with failure. There should be no debate as to whether his decade-long stay at the club ends in the summer.