For the majority of Michael Carrick’s career he’s been the unsung-hero, the underrated star, the unappreciated gem.
But now that the time to replace him has well and truly arrived, suddenly few are considered worthy to fill his boots.
The Englishman will turn 36 this month and while he’s been handed the captaincy following Wayne Rooney’s return to Everton, he’s widely expected to hang up his boots at the end of the campaign and officially hand the armband to Ander Herrera, who is likely to don it most often next season anyway.
While his legs have begun to fail him, his class, character and genius remain. Carrick can still boss a midfield on his day but those days are growing further apart.
Tottenham’s Eric Dier has emerged as Jose Mourinho’s prime midfield target in recent days and the development has been met with mixed reactions, particularly given the £50 million fee some parts of the media have reported.
But putting that exorbitant figure aside, the acquisition of Dier could be a very wise one. He’s far from spectacular as an individual and that has seen his value to Spurs grossly underestimated, a judgement Carrick for one is no stranger to.
He’s not the midfield orchestrator the United man is but he’s a reliable distributor nonetheless and as good an anchorman as they come. He averaged 55 passes per game last season, eerily similar to Carrick’s 54.9.
In terms of reading the game, Dier may even be on par with Carrick, who is renowned for his awareness of space and speed of thought which compensated for his lack of pace.
The Spurs man is tactically astute, capable of anticipating plays. He’s also remarkably versatile, maintaining a high standard whether operating in midfield, at centre-back or right-back.
Eric Dier: Only Toby Alderweireld (212) made more accurate long balls than Dier (187) of all outfielders in the Premier League last season pic.twitter.com/lhJV9qGAy4— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) July 11, 2017
That would afford Mourinho several options in a tactical sense, especially given the Portuguese’s tendency to alter his set-up to negate the opposition. Dier was absolutely crucial to Mauricio Pochettino last season as Tottenham regularly shifted between four and three at the back.
He also possesses a decent turn of pace and would provide the kind of mobility that Carrick has always lacked and when comes to the dirty work, he’s an accomplished tackler, not afraid to slide into a challenge.
For years Carrick has been the glue which has held United together, barely keeping the core of the side together despite a glaring lack of central midfielders. He often partnered the ageing Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, covering the ground they left vacant.
In his last few seasons, Scholes was still one of the finest passes in world football, picking out targets at any range with ease. Carrick, while being an accomplished playmaker in his own right, could never match the ‘Sat Nav’ pass for pass, nor did he try.
While the onus fell on Carrick following Scholes’ departure, Dier wouldn’t be subjected to the same pressure if he were to replace the United skipper. He isn’t one for the Hollywood passes, but then again, he doesn’t have to be.
Paul Pogba will be the one entrusted with the delivering the killer ball from midfield and dictating play while Ander Herrera is a capable passer as well.
Dier, for his part, will have to ensure he offers the players ahead of him the freedom to attack while he shields the back four and recycles possession with his composed passing.
While the swoop for Dier appears to be out of the blue, the fact that he came through the ranks in Portugal, beginning his senior career at Sporting CP means that he could quite possibly have been on Mourinho’s radar for several years. Meanwhile, his time in Portugal may have been key in his tactical education.
There’s no replacing Michael Carrick, but in Dier Mourinho may have identified a solution, a player who can be the answer to a variety of problems.