It is so often the way that a player's importance is only felt when he is not there any more. As Manchester United's number 16 continues to miss games with an achilles injury that could keep him out until the New Year, the abject display of the Reds midfield against Cardiff City only highlighted the obvious fact that Michael Carrick is far and away the Champion's best central midfielder.
The popular opinion on the continent is that Michael Carrick is one of the most gifted English footballers around. Before the Champions League final with United in 2009, Barcelona legend Xavi singled out the Englishman as a complete player, and many around in Europe may be surprised that Carrick has just 31 international caps to his name. Amazingly, the United midfielder has won five titles at Old Trafford, yet has been repeatedly snubbed by England in favour of more visible headline grabbers Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.
Escaping from the shadow of two undisputedly world class players has been somewhat understandably difficult, but one wonders how many caps he would have if he was Italian or possibly even Spanish. On the flip side of that is the chilling question, how many caps would Xavi have won if he was English? Though clearly not of the Spaniard's calibre, both are prepared to pass sideways if there is no forward option, a criticism often levelled at the Englishman.
In England it's called negative football, in Spain it's called possession football. This tactic is a major part of the way Barcelona, and Spain play football - the difference is of course that the movement ahead of Xavi is the best in world football, and for Carrick it hasn't always been the case.
With Carrick's contract tying him to United until 2015, and with the option of another year, the England midfielder could be in Manchester well into his 35th year. But unlike other elder statesmen at Old Trafford who had to work immensely hard to stay in the first team picture, or adapt their game to continue to be of use, Carrick's game is already suited to a player whose dominant attribute is speed of thought rather than speed of movement.
The Englishman has always excelled at being positionally astute, possessing an outstanding touch and the ability to pass the ball majestically both short and long.
These are the kind of attributes that remain long after a player's pace, acceleration, and agility have deserted him. For this reason, it is very reasonable to expect that this will not be Carrick's last contract at United.
image: © Andrea Sartorati