Only 23 caps in 11 years, but Carrick could still be England's answer to Pirlo

After his retirement U-turn, the midfielder is an attractive option, writes Sam Wallace
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The Independent Online

When Michael Carrick made his England debut, aged 19, against Mexico at Pride Park in 2001, below, it was a reasonable expectation that we were witnessing the start of a long and successful international career. He was a member of West Ham's golden generation and reputed to be every bit as talented as the prodigal Joe Cole. So why is it that the 31-year-old Carrick, who sat down to talk at the England team hotel this week, has just 23 caps to his name and was fielding questions about international retirement?

Eleven years on Carrick's England career can politely be described as forgettable. There have been high points, such as his performance in a weakened England team that beat Germany in Berlin in 2008 and then there have been the lows, most notably the long sequences of games when he was not selected, including the 2010 World Cup finals for which he was one of only three outfield squad members who did not get a minute on the pitch.

Carrick took some gentle encouraging to explain why it was that he had asked Fabio Capello in January not to be considered for selection, a problem inherited by Roy Hodgson which led to the misunderstanding whereby Carrick was not considered for the Euro 2012 squad.

"I will say it as I said it before, I hadn't played for 18 months to two years really," he said. "I went to the World Cup in South Africa but wasn't really going to play. There were injuries but I knew I wasn't going to play. It was a hard time for me and then I hadn't played for so long, so I thought it was best for me not to be involved really and for the manager to bring someone else in and give him a chance."

There is evidently no love lost between Carrick and Capello, not given how easily won round the player said he was by Hodgson's approach to him last month that led to him being in the squad for tonight's 2014 World Cup qualifier against Moldova.

"He [Hodgson] didn't have to say too much," added the Manchester United midfielder. "I still want to be part of England. I know I will get a fair chance and if I am playing well enough and deserve my place I will have a chance of getting in."

It should not be forgotten that this happens to be a man with four Premier League titles to his name as well as a Champions League winner's medal.

As England cast around for a new solution to their midfield, Carrick is an attractive option. He passes the ball well and offers an alternative to the old Steven Gerrard-Frank Lampard axis. He may be the closest thing Hodgson has to an Andrea Pirlo. At the same time it should not be forgotten that, on his off-days, Carrick can be a deeply frustrating figure. There have also been periods at United, notably in the 2009-2010 season, when Sir Alex Ferguson's faith in him seemed to waver.

"This is my seventh season [at United] and I have played a lot of games," he said. "The England scenario is slightly different but it is not for me to start shouting about who I should be playing with because that is just not my style."

Players of Carrick's quality always get second chances but this might be the last one he gets to make himself a fixture in the team.

"For whatever reason I have not played," he said. "That's football. That's the way it goes. Maybe at times I haven't played well enough to get in the team. My ego is not that big that I think I should be playing every game for England."