Michael Carrick produces moment of the match in Man United farewell
Hard to believe now but when Michael Carrick joined Manchester United in 2006, the common feeling was that Sir Alex Ferguson had overpaid for him at £18.6million.
A dozen years and a dozen trophies later, Carrick was given the farewell he deserved at Old Trafford on Sunday with a guard of honour before he rolled back the years with a match-winning pass only few midfielders could make.
He’ll join Jose Mourinho’s coaching staff next season and, who knows, further down the line he might be the first United old boy since Wilf McGuinness to become the club’s full-time manager.
With United minds more focussed on next Saturday’s FA Cup Final against Chelsea rather than Watford, the priority was paying tribute to 36-year-old Carrick as he said goodbye to the Theatre of Dreams as a player.
It was certainly an emotional walk out the tunnel for the former West Ham and Spurs man, as he walked between the two sets of players to huge applause, accompanied by his two children wearing ‘Daddy 16’ United shirts
The first touch of his 464th and probably final United appearance was a quarterback-style pass to Marcus Rashford. It was a sign of what was to come and just past the half-hour mark, Carrick produced the moment of the match.
Deep in his own half, he spotted Juan Mata’s run on the right-hand side and pinged a perfect 45-yard ball into the Spaniard’s path. From that, it was easy for United to score, Mata squaring for the unmarked Rashford to score.
Carrick revealed a minor heart condition earlier this season but decided after suitable treatment that he wanted to fulfil his contract until the summer. ‘M.A.N.’ said Jose Mourinho admiringly in the build-up to his retirement game.
Sometimes it’s hard in the modern era for a player of his vintage to impose himself physically and one 50-50 saw him lose out to the solid figure of Roberto Pereyra.
But most of the time, Carrick was able to run the game without anyone getting near him, not just on the ball but off it.
One bright Watford counter-attack was stopped in its tracks by Carrick spotting where a pass from Abdoulaye Doucoure was travelling, and intercepting to snuff out the danger.
In the build-up to his farewell, Carrick’s sibling Graeme described the United captain as ‘Bruv, best mate and master craftsman’.
Craftsman indeed. But a responsible team player as well. When Watford tried to gain an equaliser through the second half, Carrick made sure he and the midfielders either side of him, Scott McTominay and Daley Blind (later replaced by Ander Herrera), stayed organised and compact.
Mourinho changed Ashley Young and Blind first to build up the anticipation for Carrick’s final withdrawal. The signal came after 85 minutes with the player hugging his team-mates and Mourinho, as he made way for Paul Pogba.
The ovation from all four corners of the stadium created one of the loudest noises heard at Old Trafford this season.
Carrick always preferred team-mates like Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie to grab the headlines. He saw his job as giving them the ball in the right positions at the right time.
But after five Premier League titles, three League Cups, an FA Cup, a FIFA Club World Cup, Europa League and 2008 Champions League, Manchester United fans made it clear he’s a legend too.
And on this performance – his first Premier League start of the season – might Mourinho be tempted to put him on the bench at Wembley for a final, Final farewell?