Silky and smooth, safe and sure. That was Carrick to a tee. A fine footballer, but amid a generation of engine-room galacticos – and that’s just in England – he was never the goal-getting headline grabber earmarked for poster boy superstardom.
Even at United, he endured a chastening introduction. Brought into replace a combative warrior, the calm and quiet Carrick was the antithesis of club icon Roy Keane, with his welcome made more arduous after being burdened with the Irishman’s hallowed No16 jersey.
Carrick eventually won over the cynics and, upon his retirement, No16 enters club folklore with the 16th most appearances (464) and as one of their very finest midfielders.
Still, even though he is widely adored at Old Trafford, his languid style and laid-back nature often saw him operate from the shadows.
Carrick is classed as a more elite operator than workhorses and disrupters of Park Ji-sung and Darren Fletcher’s ilk. Yet he was rarely offered the spotlight thrust upon Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs, Scholes, or wrestled and horded for himself by Cristiano Ronaldo.
Carrick, talented and creative, instead was happy to go quietly about his business.
It was a bit of business that ended up being one of the biggest bargains Sir Alex Ferguson ever struck – an £18.6 million steal from Tottenham in 2006.
With 18,978 he recorded the third most Premier League passes in history. Only Cesc Fabregas (18,994) and Gareth Barry (20,616) have made more, with fourth-placed Yaya Toure more than 3,000 behind on 15,744.
He has the fifth-most touches (22,525) in league history, an overall average pass completion of 86.95 per cent, made just the solo error leading to a goal and was never sent off.
That’s not to say he never put his boot in; Carrick made 582 interceptions and won 493 tackles.
Even in the twilight of his career, with little fuel left in the tank, Carrick remained a Rolls Royce of a player. He featured in 38 games in total in his penultimate campaign, aged 35, in 2016/17, 23 of them in the Premier League, where he remained among the elite.
His 89 per cent pass completion was the eighth best mark that season (seventh among midfielders), while his 1,263 passes placed him 76th overall, although every player above him made many more than his 23 appearances.
Even now, at 36 and with a waning influence on United this season, in which he played just five times for Jose Mourinho’s side due to a combination of advancing years and a troublesome heart irregularity that was discovered by chance earlier in the season, his final appearance proved the sizeable void his transition into coaching leaves.
Despite the advancing years and the fading fitness, Carrick left an indelible mark on the club on his final appearance when he orchestrated the only goal of the game for Marcus Rashford.
The veteran’s trademark vision and precise passing caught the Watford defence off guard, with an insightful ball over the top finding Juan Mata, who beat the offside trap and unselfishly squared for Rashford to tap in what turned out to be the winner.
The fact that the goal was started by the past of Manchester United and finished by the future of the club is telling.
For all the failures in the post-Ferguson era in terms of misguided player recruitment and wasted talent, a failure to find a suitable replacement for the retiring Carrick is possibly the biggest oversight.
That in itself is in keeping with Carrick being overlooked throughout a nevertheless distinguished career.
Although he wasn’t as celebrated publicly as box office midfield names like Paul Scholes and Paul Pogba, he is exactly the type of player United yearn for most.
The Red Devils may have finished a distant 19 points off the top of the table and behind bewitching Manchester rivals City this season, but the gap is not truly indicative of the gulf in class between the teams.
United are not all that far away from competing with and even toppling their noisy neighbours and becoming England’s elite club once again.
Mourinho is the right man for the job, as his two trophies in two seasons prove, with possibly a third major title to come this weekend.
He has much of the personnel too, but he must get the best out of the likes of Pogba and Antony Martial, while continuing to be patient with the progress of Rashford – one thing he’s done admirably but has been unfairly chastised for this season.
But what he, United and their fans are all crying out for desperately is that coveted Carrick replacement.
Someone who can accept and distribute possession elegantly, quickly and under pressure. If he can be found, Pogba and United’s attack will finally flourish.
Feeding the flair players who will hopefully score the goals and grab the limelight, while the future Carrick turns back to the centre circle, ready to do it all over again.
While other individuals take the glory and the column inches, the new Carrick will just be content to be a cog in the machine, deeming his reward as playing a small, understated, yet pivotal role in returning a sleeping giant to gargantuan success.
Having finished their league campaign a whopping 19 points adrift of Pep Guardiola‘s record-breaking Manchester City, United have one final chance to win some silverware when they face Chelsea at Wembley on Saturday.
Defender Jones admits just lifting the FA Cup for the second time in three seasons could only be deemed “satisfactory” for the club, yet he also feels it would imbue Jose Mourinho‘s squad with confidence ahead of the start of the next league campaign.
“It will be our last game of the season – if you win that, you finish on a positive note and you go into the next season feeling confident, ready to go and ready to battle again for the title,” the England international said.
“I really don’t think we’re far away. In another season we might have been challenging. Sometimes you’ve got to hold your hands up and say that Man City have done ever so well to win the league this year, take nothing away from them.
“They’ve competed well in every game and won games where you’re thinking they probably would have drawn. I think winning the FA Cup and going into next season will be good for us.”
There has been much debate over whether or not United have progressed in Mourinho’s second term. Though their league position improved from sixth to second, they were EFL Cup and Europa League winners in the Portuguese’s debut campaign.
On reaching a third final in two seasons, Jones added: “We’re moving in the right direction.
“We’ll always have our critics because we’re Man United and ultimately it’s been like that since I’ve been here, but it shows that we’re moving in the right direction under him.
“(A) successful (season) for Man United is winning the Premier League and another trophy, and probably having a good cup run in another one.
“I think finishing second and winning the FA Cup probably would be satisfactory for Man United but we always want to win more.
“This club is so used to winning things. It is part of the history of this club. To keep adding to that is important. We cannot stand still. We can’t just let the FA Cup final pass.”
United do have an excellent record against the other top-six Premier League clubs, having beaten them all since late February.
In three of those victories, including the one over Chelsea at Old Trafford and the FA Cup semi-final success over Tottenham, Mourinho’s side had been trailing too.
“I think we’ve done very well against the top six – we’ve competed well, we’ve battled well and I think in every game we’ve deserved to win,” Jones said.
“There’s not a game where you think, ‘It could have gone either way’, I think we’ve deserved to win the games. Again, that shows the direction that we’re moving in and the progression that we’re making.
“We need to keep doing that and winning the FA Cup final will be another step in the right direction.”
Faria, Mourinho’s long-serving number two, is stepping down from his role at Old Trafford at the end of the season.
For the time being it seems that Faria, 42, intends to take a break but Mourinho believes he has the credentials to be a manager himself. Indeed, he has even been linked with the upcoming vacancy at Arsenal.
Asked if this felt like the end of an era, Mourinho told MUTV: “Yes, but maybe one day we are playing against each other in the Premier League.
“If that moment arrives, I will be a very proud guy because this man came to me when he was a kid 17 years ago. So, if that happens, I will be a very proud guy.”
Mourinho and Faria have one more game together as United face Chelsea in the FA Cup final at Wembley next Saturday.
United wrapped up their Premier League campaign on Sunday with a 1-0 win over Watford at Old Trafford.
Marcus Rashford scored the only goal but the main highlight of a largely unremarkable game was the farewell appearance of Michael Carrick.
Veteran midfielder Carrick, 36, is hanging up his boots to take up a position on Mourinho’s backroom staff – although that move was planned before news of Faria’s departure was announced at the weekend.
Initially Mourinho intends to continue without a designated assistant but he hopes Carrick can grow into that role. He already has no doubt he will be able to call on Carrick’s expertise when it comes to identifying new players, particularly in his old midfield role.
Mourinho said: “I have to make the decisions but of course my assistants have an opinion.
“He has, in relation to his position, a different vision than any other opinion that we can have from any scout or any analyst department.”
Provided by Press Association Sport