After a lengthy fitness and injury conflict that has subsequently sidelined him from the pitch for several months, on Monday Manchester United captain Michael Carrick announced his intention to retire after the conclusion of 2017/2018 campaign. At 36 years old and mainly retained as a sub since Jose Mourinho succeeded Louis van Gaal as manager in the summer of 2016, many assumed he’d already laced his boots for a final time. As another player from the Sir Alex era prepares for life after The Theatre of Dreams, a familiar realization sets in: we inch closer to a period where those names will be fond memories, and we will no longer flock to Old Trafford to watch them live.
Carrick began his professional career at West Ham in 1999, and five years later moved to Tottenham for the bargain price of £3.5 million. When United bought him two years later for £18.6 million, many wondered if the price matched the player. His style was based almost entirely on ball retention, and was quick to release with accuracy almost as soon as he possessed it. As the successor to Roy Keane’s number 16, Carrick was not only joining a dynamic club, he was donning the number of a United legend.
At 315 (and counting) club appearances for the English international, he’s accumulated five Premier League titles, two League Cups, the FA Cup, a Champions League, a Club World Cup and most recently a Europa League title. His highlight reel is as impressive as his trophy case.
Roma rout of 2007
Perhaps one of Carrick’s most iconic performances came eight months after his United debut against A.S. Roma in the second leg of the Champions League. With a 2-1 defeat in the first leg, Sir Alex’s men were determined to prove that they could still compete at Europe’s highest level. As many United fans (including yours truly) will never forget, the Red Devils went on to thrash their Italian opponents 7-1, and Carrick found the back of the net with two screamers that hushed critics and earned the respect of fans.
Good old-fashioned victory against the Blues
In April 2011, United faced Chelsea in the Champions League quarterfinals, and Carrick’s form in that away leg was nearly perfect. At Stamford Bridge, he intercepted the ball seven times. In the return leg at Old Trafford, Carrick completed eight out of nine tackles. For a player not necessarily associated with tackling, that stat is not only impressive, but also significant. His exemplary coverage of the midfield coupled with two goals by Chicharito and Park Ji-sung solidified a trip to the semifinals.
In November, Carrick shared a shocking admission about his health. During an easy 4-1 EFL cup victory over Burton last September, Carrick felt something was off about his fitness. After undergoing tests, he released a statement that he underwent a cardiac ablation to fix an abnormal heart rhythm. While Carrick assured the United community he was fine, rumors were already swirling of his impending retirement, and Mourinho revealed he’d offered the injured captain a role on his coaching staff at the culmination of the season. It was only a matter of time before the official announcement followed.
Michael Carrick is a mark of consistency, and it’s a tall ask to pinpoint any particular match where he didn’t individually assume the burden of United’s entire midfield. Sure, acknowledgements of his career probably won’t generate equal pomp and circumstance like recent retirees Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard. Nevertheless, Carrick was the final member of United’s iconic 2007-2008 team still with the club, and furthermore a symbol of humility. With David Beckham, Ryan Giggs and Eric Cantona as some of the most famous United alums, few will rush to name Carrick as their favorite. However, he redefined what the role of a central midfielder should be, and consequently brought out the best qualities of those who played with him.