He is midfield general

Michael Carrick has been hailed as “absolutely magnificent” by Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson and the player himself admitted he is playing “the best football of (his) career” after scoring at Stoke recently. By Tom Johnson.

The onus was certainly on Michael Carrick to step up to the plate this season — and he has responded in style. Darren Fletcher’s prolonged absence and the departure of Park Ji-Sung meant there were doubts at the start of the season whether Manchester United had the quality in midfield to snatch their English Premier League crown back from Manchester City.

The critics have been silenced, though, by the way in which United have cruised to the title and Carrick has played a significant role, culminating in him being shortlisted for the PFA Player of the Year award ahead of 17-goal Swansea star Michu.

Although he lost out to Gareth Bale, Carrick was the only Englishman to make the shortlist and was named in the Team of the Year by his peers.

The former Tottenham and West Ham midfielder has been hailed as “absolutely magnificent” by manager Sir Alex Ferguson and the player himself admitted he is playing “the best football of (his) career” after scoring at Stoke recently — his first in the EPL since January 2012.

Carrick has now collected his fifth league title in seven seasons since leaving Spurs for GBP16 million prior to the 2006 World Cup.

He began his career at West Ham and was part of the squad that won the 1998-99 FA Youth Cup, alongside Joe Cole. He was voted as West Ham’s Young Player of the Year in his first two seasons, staying at the club as the side was relegated from the EPL in 2003 and lost the Championship play-off final to Crystal Palace a year later.

At the age of 22, he attracted the interest of Spurs who paid around GBP3.5m for his services but he initially struggled at White Hart Lane due to injuries and falling out of favour with Jacques Santini.

Martin Jol’s arrival signalled an upturn in form and after 64 league appearances for Spurs, Ferguson plumped for Carrick to replace the departing Roy Keane in United’s midfield.

“I went to the World Cup with England and information was filtering through that clubs were in contact,” said Carrick. “Tottenham told me what was happening, but it seemed to drag on and on.

“I was desperate to come. It was a no-brainer for me as soon as I found out United were interested.”

With a hefty GBP18.6m price tag on his head and with the number 16 shirt — previously worn by Keane — on his back, the pressure was firmly on the Geordie’s shoulders.

He managed six goals in his first season with the Red Devils, including a brace in a 7-1 win over Roma in the UEFA Champions League, and became a regular feature in the England squad.

He managed to fend off competition from Owen Hargreaves and Anderson in the United midfield and was a European champion in 2008 when he was part of the United side which won the Champions League — playing the full 120 minutes and scoring in the shootout as they defeated Chelsea on penalties.

A year on, he was part of the side which was brushed aside by Barcelona in Rome as they lost 2-0.

Carrick said: “Rome is the biggest disappointment I have had. It came and went and it was too late. It was gone. I suppose when you look at the big picture, it was still another Champions League final.”

He remained a regular for United, dropping deeper to a more defensive midfield role, as well as helping out in defence after injuries to Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. And with just three goals in his last three years at Old Trafford, Carrick’s influence has been more as a holding player, supplying the likes of Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov and more recently Robin van Persie.

There are now calls for Roy Hodgson to recall Carrick to England duty, after Carrick revealed he has never been discouraged to represent his country by Ferguson.

“I have never had anything from the manager saying pull yourself out or anything in that manner because it’s not in his nature,” explained Carrick. “I don’t see a club v country row.

“I’d have loved to have had more caps but what’s gone has gone. You can’t look back too much.”

But he can look forward and a key role for England at the 2014 World Cup could now be on the horizon.

FACTFILE The player: Michael Carrick Position: Midfielder Club: Manchester United Date of birth: 28/7/1981 International debut: England vs Mexico, 2001 International caps: 27

Moment to remember: Was nominated for the 2013 PFA Player of the Year award.

Moment to forget: Played in just one of England’s 2010 World Cup qualifiers and failed to make it onto the pitch in South Africa despite being named in the 23-man squad.

Footballer’s strife: Carrick was one of 10 Tottenham players who fell ill on the eve of the final game of the season in 2006 and managed just 63 minutes in a 2-1 defeat to former club West Ham.

Footballer’s wife: Met Lisa Roughead at school and the couple married in 2007. They now have a daughter, Louise, and a son, Jacey.

Footballer’s drive: Last known to drive an Audi A6.

© PA Sport, 2013, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, re-written, re-distributed or commercially exploited. Sportstar is not responsible for any inaccuracy in the material.