Michael Carrick is assured one hell of a turnout on Sunday as his 11 years of service to Manchester United are honoured with a testimonial match at Old Trafford.
Not only is the match heading for a near-sellout, but the likes of Ryan Giggs, Rio Ferdinand, Edwin van der Sar, Paul Scholes and Patrice Evra will be wearing the United shirt once more under the watchful eye of Sir Alex Ferguson as the midfielder receives a string of warranted accolades for his performances since arriving from Tottenham in 2006.
While the number of stars on show says much about the esteem in which he is held throughout the game, the new one-year contract he was handed last month speaks volumes as to the position he still retains among the current squad.
Carrick’s career has been quite the paradox in many senses. His ability to dictate the pace of a game and cover for more attacking midfield partners should probably have yielded even more success than he has managed since emerging as a youngster with West Ham. Certainly at international level his record of just 34 caps in 15 years between his first and last appearance tells a story over a talent unfulfilled.
Successive international managers found other solutions in midfield, with Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard’s qualities often being shoehorned into the side at Carrick’s expense, while the likes of Owen Hargreaves, Jermaine Jenas, Lee Bowyer, Gareth Barry and even Ledley King given their wings at various times as the Wallsend product failed to make a serious impression on the international stage.
Perhaps it was the case that the cannier defences of international football had more answers than did those in the Premier League to Carrick’s guile. But England’s loss has most definitely been United’s gain and while Louis van Gaal had been set to end Carrick’s United career before his sacking in 2016, Jose Mourinho’s faith in the midfielder has seen successive one-year deals offered to the veteran.
Plainly put, while he will turn 36 in July, Carrick has made himself practically irreplaceable at United. In his 30 starts in 2016-17, the only times the Reds suffered defeat were in the second leg of the EFL Cup semi-final against Hull City and the two late-season losses in north London against Arsenal and Tottenham after all attention had turned to the club’s Europa League assault.
He remains as important to the side as ever, providing the balance Mourinho has often been unable to find without his in the starting XI. Carrick’s positioning has regularly helped to bring better performances out of Paul Pogba, despite Father Time dictating that the former England man cannot cover the ground behind the attacking midfielders in quite the way that he used to.
United’s problem once he has gone will be finding an alternative. And that is not to say they must find a replacement, because there are very few in the world and perhaps none at all in England who can provide what he does.
Who else can sweep in front of the back four, spot the smallest of gaps to feed more attacking team-mates and also read the body language of colleagues and adversaries alike in order to lift and drop the pace of the game as appropriate? Roma's Daniele De Rossi is probably the master of the art in the world game at the moment, but Carrick is England’s best in that regard.
Former team-mate Scholes waxed lyrical about Carrick’s ability when speaking to Goal recently.
“It was a big help for me when I was playing,” he said. “I can only talk from experience from what you know and I knew playing with Michael that I had somebody next to me who was reliable.
“He’s always in the right place, he plays his position brilliantly and when he came into the team from October onwards there were something like 16, 17, 18 games maybe where they didn’t lose. He had a big influence on people like Paul Pogba, he got the best out of him and Herrera. I still think he’s got a part to play.”
On Sunday, Scholes and others will raise a glass to one of United’s modern heroes. His graceful style and affable manner rightly make him a Stretford End favourite. He will take quite some replacing when his days are done.