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'Carrick would have been more appreciated in Spain' - Ex-Man Utd star 'underrated' in England, says Mata

6:54 pm AEST 17/4/20
Michael Carrick Manchester United
The La Roja midfielder doesn't believe his old Red Devils team-mate ever got the credit he deserved at Old Trafford or in the Premier League.

Michael Carrick "would have been bigger" in Spain than England, according to Juan Mata, who says the former Manchester United star was a "fantastic" player and a "joy to play alongside".

United snapped Carrick up from Tottenham in a £14 million ($17m) deal back in 2006, and he went on to feature in 463 matches for the club during his 12-year stay at Old Trafford.

The ex-England international was part of a squad which is widely regarded as one of the finest in Premier League history, as he helped United win three successive Premier League titles and the Champions League between 2007 and 2009.

The midfielder also won 34 caps for his country, but never quite managed to establish himself as a regular in the Three Lions' starting line up, with Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard often preferred in the middle of the park.

Mata, who spent four years playing alongside Carrick after completing a switch to United from Chelsea in January 2014, believes the 38-year-old was underrated at the height of his career and a hugely important member of the squad.

When asked to discuss United's unsung heroes of the modern era, Mata told MUTV : “The first one that comes to mind is Michael Carrick, because I had a chance to play with him for a long time. I know how important he is for a team.

“From my point of view, he didn't have the media talking about him, or even the fans speaking about his importance, but it was just a joy to play alongside him. As an attacking football player, when you have Michael in behind, you know he's going to find you. Wherever you move, he's going to find you.

“I joke with him, calling him the quarterback of a football team because you make the movement and the ball is going to fall into your run. It's not going into your feet but into your run, exactly what you want, to control it and keep going.

“Sometimes, people don't appreciate that enough and also defensively. People could have said he was not the most aggressive one but he was very intelligent. He didn't need to be so aggressive. He'd read before where the ball was going to go and made the recovery.

“For me, he was a fantastic midfielder and, for some times of his career, he was underrated or underappreciated - in the national team and for the club.”

The United playmaker went on to express his belief that Carrick's talents would have been valued more highly in Spain, given the fact that players with exceptional technical ability and passing skills are put under the spotlight more frequently than in England.

“Because of the way he plays, this type of player is very appreciated in Spain,” Mata added. “He probably would have been bigger than he actually was here.”