England v Brazil: Circumspect Michael Carrick lets his excitement slip
Sir Alex Ferguson has gone but the philosophy for public utterances by Manchester United players instilled over almost 30 years lives on and is sure to be continued by his successor David Moyes: do not tempt fate; take nothing for granted; no looking too far ahead. Michael Carrick demonstrated the art at Wembley last Wednesday in looking at England's game in Brazil, yet could not conceal an almost boyish sense of wonder at the opposition and the venue.
"It's a special game," was his first thought. "When I was growing up, Brazil was always one of the best teams. You look at the history they've got. It's a special team and to go over and play in that stadium, with the history it has – obviously it's been redeveloped – it's a special, special game. I think of growing up and it was Pele, Zico, Socrates, Rivelino and players like that. Then later it was Romario, Bebeto, Rivaldo and Ronaldo. Some unbelievable players. Brazil is special. They play that [special] sort of way and they have this culture where they just enjoy it."
There is something rather touching about a senior professional exhibiting such romanticism, albeit expressing wonder – and envy? – about players who "just enjoy it". Soon, however, United-speak kicks in when it is suggested to him that the game will be useful experience a year before the World Cup finals. "Yeah, it's going to give us a taste of playing there, but we don't want to look too far ahead. We've got a big, big job to do. It gives us a taste, gives us an experience and it'll help us if we do get there next year."
Past experience, as much as that Manchester mentality, would also make him wary of overly personalising the prospects, for Carrick's international career has been extraordinarily fitful. Twelve years after a debut in Sven Goran Eriksson's first season, he still has fewer than 30 caps. Eriksson gave him two games in 2001, then ignored him for the next four years. Fated to live in the shadow of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, he was taken to the World Cups of 2006 and 2010 but made it on to the pitch only once.
Later, Scott Parker, Gareth Barry, Jack Wilshere and Tom Cleverley also contrived to keep him out and there was the strange confusion over selection for Euro 2012, when he was believed to have made himself unavailable – "via his agent", Roy Hodgson said – only to return for the next friendly at the start of the season. Carrick went on to have such a fine campaign as United regained their Premier League title that Arsène Wenger – not inclined as Arsenal manager to big up either Gareth Bale or Robin van Persie – suggested he should have been voted Player of the Year.
So by the final internationals of the season, Carrick has become the obvious choice with Lampard for the more defensive midfield berths now that neither Gerrard nor Wilshere are fit. Ireland, against whom he was neither outstanding nor a weak link, and Brazil, provide very different sorts of opposition, as he acknowledged on Wednesday: "It's a one-off game [in Brazil] just like tonight was. We have things we want to improve and things we will work on.
"We'll take the positives from tonight – and I thought there were a lot. It'll be nothing like tonight, that's for sure. All the elements that come with Brazil, the players they've got, the environment – we'll have to deal with different things but that's what it's like playing at this level."
And the challenges after that? "There are four really. We have the three [qualifying] home games and we're confident we can win those, but we can't look too far ahead. The next game after Brazil is [a friendly against] Scotland and we'll focus on that." Spoken like a true Ferguson disciple.
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