Michael Carrick has admitted he was not aware how restrictive his Achilles injury was until he had it fixed. After slipping out of the first-team reckoning at Manchester United at the end of last season, then enduring a disappointing World Cup campaign where he failed to get on the field for a single minute of competitive action, Carrick struggled to make an impact during the early weeks of the campaign.
It was not until he got back from England duty in the Euro 2012 double-header with Bulgaria and Switzerland in September that Sir Alex Ferguson decided the 29-year-old needed treatment. Virtually six weeks off followed, since when Carrick has figured in six matches on the trot, including the five straight wins that have breathed new life into a campaign that appeared to be heading nowhere fast.
"I should have got something done about my Achilles sooner because I was carrying it for a while," he reflected yesterday. "It is easier to say that now I have got rid of it because I feel great. But it is probably only how I feel now I realise how bad it was. I feel good now and am happy with my game."
Certainly, the delicate square pass to Darren Fletcher for United's opener in their three-goal Champions League defeat of Bursaspor on Tuesday was a reminder of what Carrick brings to the Red Devils' table.
There are few who caress the ball in quite the same manner and only Paul Scholes can compete in the sheer range of passing Carrick possesses.
At a time when Ferguson's attacking options in wide areas are being reduced by injury, an alternative way of unlocking defences is essential. Little wonder, therefore, that the Scot is happy that rumours of a summer departure for Carrick did not become reality, with the player committed to showing that the form that dipped so far was only a temporary problem.
"I didn't think I had to answer any critics," he said. "The only opinions that count are those of the manager and the staff. You just have to brush aside the rest of it and believe in yourself. I wasn't hitting my best form, so I couldn't argue about the teams the manager was picking. I am not big enough to be saying I should be playing every game, so it was up to me to play well again. I knew things would come good."
It is the perfect way to be heading into a week that has the Manchester derby at Eastlands as its focal point next Wednesday. If the game had been played a fortnight ago, United would be the ones looking weak, with their results poor and rumours of disharmony in the camp. Now the spotlight is on City.
"We know the bigger picture. When things are going well we don't get carried away and when things aren't going so well we don't get despondent either, because we know things will turn," Carrick said. "We are on a good run and are now bouncing into games. The derby is there, but in another way, it still seems a long way off. We cannot afford to get ahead of ourselves because we have Wolves to play on Saturday and they beat City last week, so that is going to be tough enough."
Five points adrift of the Premier League leaders Chelsea, United have little room for manoeuvre, given the points they meekly tossed away in the opening weeks of the campaign. Late goals at Fulham and Everton, plus the loss of a two-goal lead at home to West Bromwich may eventually prove costly, although for now United want to extend an unbeaten run that extends to 23 games. "We are still frustrated about all those silly points we gave away but we are unbeaten and that gives us confidence," Carrick said.