Walk round Old Trafford and you’re frequently reminded why Manchester United is one of the biggest and best supported football clubs on the planet.
It’s not just the 76,000 seater stadium or the tourists pouring out of the megastore who are barely able to walk due to the weight of their shopping bags crammed full of the latest official merchandise tat, that underlines just how successful United have been over the years.
There’s the Munich clock, memorial and tunnel that highlight the tragedy that in many ways shaped the club’s standing across the globe, then there’s the statues that acknowledge the men who’ve been an integral part of the club’s glories.
Sir Matt Busby, Sir Alex Ferguson and of course the United trinity of Sir Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and George Best are all immortalised in bronze – or whatever metal the statues are made of- around the ground, but for many there are other men who deserve to be recognised too. Fans who saw the Reds in the 60s and 70s insist Paddy Crerand was as vital a cog in the United machine as any of his more attacking, famous teammates, while even Sir Matt himself argued Jimmy Murphy was as important to the club during his reign as the manager himself.
Recently we saw Liverpool fan and Evening Standard scribe Tony Evans declare he believed Paul Scholes’s reputation had grown since his retirement, or his “myth got out of control” as he worded it, amazingly his comments were a response to an all-time football XI from that legendary football expert Piers Morgan. Evans’ argument was that Scholes was “never [the] best player in any United side he played in” which may seem valid but in many ways is almost irrelevant as the midfielder shared a dressing room with some of the greatest footballers ever to grace the game, most notably Cristiano Ronaldo, Eric Cantona and Roy Keane.
Scholes may not have been the one grabbing the headlines, he may arguably not have been the ‘best’ United player in the team but he was always fundamental to any success the Reds’ had during his career, do you honestly see the treble of 99, the double wins of 96, 08 or the title wins during that period happening without the Ginger Prince pulling the strings? In many ways that’s why Michael Carrick not only shares a chant but also a reputation with his more talented former colleague. Carrick may not be in the same class as Scholes but right now he’s just as vital to the side’s fortunes as his diminutive midfield partner used to be, he’s the Ant McPartlin to Scholes’s Declan Donnelly, the Liam to Scholes’s Noel, the Marcus Burnett to his Mike Lowry.
It’s no coincidence this season that on Carrick’s watch United have won seven and drawn two with no defeats in all competitions, the sort of mouth-watering form that makes a mockery of the club’s sixth placed league position and relative struggle to progress in Europe, the real dilemma facing Mourinho isn’t how to win matches, it’s how to win matches when he can’t call upon the services of his essential midfield maestro.
For anyone who’s been living on an desert island for the past few months or in a prison cell where Ipad’s aren’t being smuggled in on a weekly basis, Carrick is 35 and not only has to be used as sparingly as possible, which at the moment is still pretty much every game, but will also need replacing in the next season or two, that’s the bad news, the good news is Jose may not have to splash the cash to find someone to fill in for his deputy captain, as for the first time since Tony Pulis started wearing fancy dress on the touchline, United actually have options in midfield and not all of them are crap.
So who can Mourinho use if Carrick’s not available?
One of the most obvious choices would be Bastian Schweinsteiger, who despite being about as liked by Mourinho as female doctors named Eva, not too long ago was one of the best midfielders on the planet, why he can’t be used occasionally to fill in when Carrick isn’t available is a bit of a mystery and somewhat frustrating, the former German skipper can read the game like few others, knows how to pick out a pass and actually offers the sort of organisational leadership that’s been missing from the Reds’ midfield since Roy Keane gave MUTV an honest assessment of his team mates.
Daley Blind may not be the first name on everyone’s lips when it comes to someone who can fill in a midfield role just in front of the defence, but it’s actually a position he’s played in many times over the years and one where his talents may be utilised to the best effect, after all few players read the game as well as Blind, few players have the composure under pressure that the Dutchman does, in many ways he’s as close to Carrick playing-wise as anyone else in the United squad.
Marouane Fellaini is the one player most Reds will be praying Mourinho doesn’t just ignore, but actually sells, preferably on New Year’s Day, early in the morning, but it wasn’t all that long ago that the Belgian was actually being praised when United won their opening three games and he performed admirably, unfortunately since then he’s become something of a disaster and despite being a tough opponent with superlative chesting ability asking him to replace Carrick is like asking David Moyes to replace the most successful manager in the history of association football.
Another candidate for filling on the role alongside Ander Herrera in midfield and one whose inclusion in the team would certainly please a lot of fans is Timothy Fosu-Mensah, who’s become something of a forgotten man under Mourinho yet still shows from his cameos during the Europa League campaign that he’s got a lot to offer and although he’s a completely different type of player to Carrick, his energy, strength and ability to run with the ball would be like having a defensive Paul Pogba. Sort of. Maybe.
There are other options available to Mourinho of course, he could move Pogba to a deeper role and put Wayne Rooney in midfield, or Juan Mata, he could ask Herrera to do the job of two men and hope that by having an extra attacking midfielder it relieves some of the pressure on him, he may even get the cheque book out and ignore any of the options he’s got in his squad, but personally I’d like to see him give someone within the club a chance, my own choice would be Blind who now seems surplus to requirements in defence but is an absolute Rolls Royce of a player.
There won’t be any statues of Michael Carrick built outside Old Trafford and in all honesty nor should there be, but in years to come when people look back at the post-Sir Alex era, one of the true unsung heroes of that time may be the former Spurs man and one of the toughest jobs Ferguson’s successors face is finding someone to replace him, fortunately for Mourinho he doesn’t have to look too far for players to fill the void.