A chant currently doing the rounds at Old Trafford compares Michael Carrick to the incomparable genius of Paul Scholes. The ditty, penned to the tune of '70s Scottish band Pilot’s smash hit "Magic," goes “It’s Carrick, you know, hard to believe it is not Scholes.”
The song is incongruous. In comparing Carrick to Paul Scholes, a player who is all but a deity at Old Trafford, the fans are making a huge statement. The resonance is accentuated, as popular chants are usually reserved for attacking, flair players who delight with their repertoire and delectable skill-set.
Such a song being apportioned onto Carrick, therefore, is juxtaposition. Reliable and simple but nevertheless important, players of Carrick’s ilk rarely get the lyrical recognition they deserve.
Carrick has not always been so highly regarded by the Manchester United fans. He had come to define the deficiency that many fans believed existed in the centre of United’s midfield. On his day, Carrick has always carried the hallmark of a quality player, but in seasons past, this has been negated by games in which the English international was completely anonymous.
In Carrick this excellence was seemingly tied to periods of anonymity not befitting a truly world-class player.
He became a point of resentment for United fans, disillusioned at the lack of investment aimed at rectifying the seemingly deficient midfield. The Geordie boy gained the sarcastic stigma of not being able to pass forward, due to his propensity for simple sideways and backward balls. Whilst the tag was unfair, it had a certain degree of resonance, such was the mediocrity of a large number of Carrick’s performances.
Whilst Sir Alex Ferguson has remained characteristically loyal to Carrick since his 2006 move, the loyalty has not been reflected in the stands.
The ditty, therefore, contradicts much that has gone before. The catalyst has been Carrick himself. This season he has transformed from a player whose penchant for simplicity too often translated into deficiency into a viable starter for England’s most decorated side.
A much more positive, forward-thinking style this term has transferred Carrick into an indispensable cog in the United side. With a delectable passing vision and a marked increase in his enforcing capabilities, Michael Carrick is a viable candidate for the club’s player of the season.
Robin van Persie has captured the headlines, and Rafael has caught the eye with his energetic, maturing displays, but Michael Carrick has built trust on skeptical foundations.
Much has been made of the attacking intent and productivity of United’s attacking players this season, as they have torn the league asunder. Yet much of the attacking excellence is facilitated by the calm maturity that Carrick has brought to the midfield. Reaching a level of consistency that he has not yet found in his United career, Michael Carrick is the pivot that connects defensive stability with attacking intent.
In any other season, a chant attempting to compare Michael Carrick with the legendary "Ginger Assassin" would have been barracked into submission. Scholes, a player whose quality has been lauded by a plethora of the game's true greats—including the incomparable Zinedine Zidane—and the much-maligned Michael Carrick?
The comparison would not have been obvious.
Even now, taken literally, holes instantly appear in Carrick’s resume. Yet this is not a slight on the 31-year-old, merely a reflection of the impossible majesty of Paul Scholes, a player Zidane called “the complete footballer”.
They are not the same breed of player. Carrick is far more defensively capable than Scholes. Scholes is an infinitely more palpable goal threat, and more adept attacking threat. Whilst Carrick’s long-ball delivery and passing vision is excellent, Paul Scholes passing was literally incomparable.
The song is not a literal statement; terrace songs are not about that. It is simply recognition. A light-hearted lyrical acknowledgement of Carrick’s contributions this season, it is a thank-you, an apology and a eulogy all rolled into one.
It is not a slight on the genius of Paul Scholes, for contrary to the lyrics it is not really about him. It is an attempt by an adoring fanbase to give recognition to those who are all too easily forgotten. To praise the facilitators and the providers without whom Manchester United would cease to function.
It is a tribute to Michael Carrick in the most complementary terms they or I know how.