Resurgence in form

It is 14 years since Michael Carrick made his international debut and he recently enjoyed yet another recall, sparking hopes that he can finally secure a regular place in the team during the twilight of his career, writes Will Jackson.

Few players have enjoyed an England career for as long as Michael Carrick but his haul of just 33 caps highlights the way he has divided the opinion of managers and fans alike.

It is 14 years since Carrick made his international debut and he recently enjoyed yet another recall, sparking hopes that he can finally secure a regular place in the team during the twilight of his career.

Remarkably, should the Manchester United midfielder go on to play at Euro 2016, he will have had the longest England career since Stanley Matthews finished playing in 1957, but there can be no doubt that he could have had many more caps than the 33 he currently has.

The 33-year-old has often gone under the radar in a time when the Premier League boasted some of the greatest central midfielders to have pulled on the Three Lions shirt, with the likes of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Paul Scholes having provided serious competition for places.

Carrick has enjoyed a resurgence in form, though, that has seen him become a crucial part of Roy Hodgson and Louis van Gaal’s plans recently. A 45-minute appearance from the England bench against Italy confirmed Carrick’s status as one of the best passers in the English game, with a style of play that should be ideally suited to international football.

He helped the visitors come from behind to claim a 1-1 draw in Turin and England arguably did enough to have won the match once Carrick was on the pitch.

It has rarely been thus, but one player who understands the full importance of his team-mate is his club and international captain Wayne Rooney.

“I think he was probably more of an easy choice to leave out when we had big-name players in the squad,” said the striker. “But I always felt he should be in the team and certainly in these past two performances he has done himself no harm.”

Reflecting on the friendly in Italy, Rooney added: “I felt Michael was the best player on the pitch by a mile. He gave us great composure, he slowed the game down when we needed to and started our attacks really well.

“I think he is a fantastic player, he has been a big reason why we (United) have won so many trophies over the last few years.”

Carrick himself is a student of the game and openly admits to wanting to improve despite being in his advanced years as a professional, something which United boss van Gaal admires greatly in his “second captain”.

On players he likes to watch, Carrick said: “You can look at a few — Andrea Pirlo, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets. Busquets probably doesn’t get enough credit for what he brings to Barcelona.

“There are a few out there. I thought Marco Verratti and Thiago Motta for Paris Saint-Germain against Chelsea were terrific, especially when they went down to 10 men. I like watching and still trying to learn from others.”

However one man he has had the privilege of playing alongside and studying at close quarters, Scholes, has perhaps had the biggest influence on his career. Fans at Old Trafford have long compared the two and can be heard comparing their current pass maestro to his predecessor on a Saturday afternoon while the former Tottenham and West Ham midfielder pulls the strings in the centre of the park in a way eerily similar to the way Scholes used to in his pomp.

“Playing alongside Scholesy I learned so much. He’d take the ball anywhere, he’d put his foot on the ball and try to have influence on the game,” added Carrick.

“It is a lot about your personality, as a person, as a player, that is how I am really, quite quiet and understated, it suits me.”

That personality may be one reason for his relatively few England caps but in Carrick’s case, perhaps the best is still to come.

© PA Sport