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Michael Carrick — England’s neglected Pianist

England have never had an appreciative eye for the finer details of the game. With the finer details come the finer players, one such is Michael Carrick. Harry Dodsworth talks about how the 33 year old has constantly and perhaps regretfully been ignored by the England national team.

Tuesday’s friendly against Italy provides Roy Hodgson’s men with an opportunity to gauge their progress since they were humiliated by the Azzuri eight months ago in Brazil.

Flashback to last summer and you’ll recall a bullish enthusiasm about the inclusion of the youthful Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling. Bullishness, however, that quickly soured into woeful discontent as England were outplayed, outclassed, and out-managed. The inadequacies of England’s play at the World Cup were typified against Cesare Prandelli’s men, as the gulf in class between the two sides was vividly illustrated in a humbling contrast.

Michael Carrick Roy Hodgson 2015

Italy’s brilliant display, which saw them complete almost 100 more passes than England, was instigated by none other than Andrea Pirlo, who completed 103 of 108 passes. Contrastingly, England’s holding midfielders, Jordan Henderson and Steven Gerrard, only completed 106 passes combined. England fans stood bemused, wondering why their disjointed and bland attacking play looked nothing like the virtuoso moves of their continental rivals. Anguished cries of “why can’t we play like them?” and “where is our Pirlo?” echoed throughout pubs and living rooms in every corner of the nation. The answer sat rooted to his sofa in Manchester.

It wasn’t as though England lacked attacking talent – with the likes of Rooney, Sterling, Sturridge, and Barkley all in the squad – the issue was getting the ball to them. Despite Gerrard and Henderson’s stellar seasons in domestic football, England seldom connected a passing move through the midfield. The Liverpool men, who should’ve acted as a link between the defensive line and the attacking players, continually left the attacking players isolated and forced to deal with poor service.

Of course, the issues weren’t exclusively in how England played with the ball; the defensive midfielders, who should’ve acted as guard dogs for the back four, had a defensive presence that more closely resembled a kitten. The back line stood nervously as Gerrard and Henderson diligently worked with their building tools, paving the way for Italy’s attack.

There was no uproar when England’s best holding midfielder, Michael Carrick, was left on the standby list. Indeed, England fans were far too busy discussing the lionhearted John Terry. The understated playmaker was left standing in the Manchester rain as his country neglected him once more.

But surely Roy Hodgson knows best? After all, he’s the England manager. He’s the one who travels up and down the country watching these players and works with them during England training. England managers always know best, especially in their assessment of deep lying midfielders. Just ask renowned left winger, Paul Scholes.

Although, considering Hodgson’s assessment that Carrick isn’t one of the top 23 players in England, it is odd that Sir Alex Ferguson would refer to Carrick as “the best central midfield player in English football”, before amending that statement to “the best English player in the game” this past December. It’s even more odd that Louis van Gaal would offer him a new contract, make him vice captain, and even refer to him as his coach out on the pitch.

Sorry Roy, but I’ll defer to the Champions League winners.

It’s far beyond the realm of reason why anyone would determine that Michael Carrick isn’t good enough to even be a backup in the England squad. In possession, he’s calm, confident, and oozes class. Out of it, he’s intelligent, watchful, and almost clairvoyant in closing down passing lanes. A quiet genius, and often the unsung hero, the midfield man is the epitome of a modern day holding midfielder and one of the best in the world in his role.

Even if you have reservations about Carrick’s place as one of the best holding midfielders in the world, it would take a brave man to deny that he’s the best holding midfielder in England.

With Steven Gerrard’s international retirement, the only other options England possess are Jordan Henderson and Jack Wilshere, neither of whom are naturally holding midfielders.

This season, Carrick has completed 89% of his passes, compared to Henderson’s 82% and Wilshere’s 83%. Those passes aren’t simply safe sideways, either, as Carrick makes more forward passes per game (46) than both Henderson and Wilshere. In addition, Carrick’s defensive presence is in another league, as he makes more interceptions per game than both combined. Lastly, to put final nail in the coffin, Squawka give Carrick a higher defense rating, possession rating, and total rating than the aforementioned two.

Yet, despite obvious evidence to suggest he deserves far more, Carrick has only amassed 32 caps, and it’s difficult to believe that there won’t be a strong sense of regret once his England career is over. As Manchester United fans will warn you, much like Vincent van Gogh, you won’t truly appreciate Carrick until he’s gone.

Barcelona maestro, Xavi Hernandez, once suggested that Paul Scholes would’ve been rated more highly if he were Spanish. It’s difficult to believe that the same isn’t true of Michael Carrick. Traditionally, England haven’t appreciated the subtleties of the game like many of the continental European countries. To quote Gary Neville, Carrick is a “calming Piano”, but England fans don’t want a piano, they want an electric guitar.

Whether you ask world class managers, brilliant players, or even statistics, Michael Carrick is England’s best holding midfielder by a substantial distance. Throughout his career he’s suffered criticism because he’s not an electric guitar, he’s not the lionhearted soldier driving forward with mud on his shorts and blood on his face that England fans so desperately crave.

But England don’t need any more electric guitars, they need a pianist, and one of the best piano players in the world too. While rarely the centre of attention, the pianist is critical in supporting the act, keeping the rhythm, and providing balance to the rest of the band. Carrick is a player who can provide Hodgson’s young lions with both the service that enables them to showcase their talent and the defensive presence that gives them the confidence to do so.

England don’t need any more lionhearted troops racing toward the front lines, they need a strategic general who provides a sense of calm amidst the chaos of battle.

The weight of the world will be on the shoulders of the England players ahead of Euro 2016, but their fate lies at the fingertips of a very talented pianist.

Written by Harry Dodsworth

Harry Dodsworth

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