Nation gets ready for graduation of Carrick

Alex Hayes sees reward for Redknapp's trust in value of youth
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The Independent Online

It has long been accepted that it can be better to blood several young players together rather than one at a time. By bringing through David Beckham, Paul Scholes and the Neville brothers as a group, Sir Alex Ferguson created a close-knit and reassuring environment for his protégés at Manchester United.

It has long been accepted that it can be better to blood several young players together rather than one at a time. By bringing through David Beckham, Paul Scholes and the Neville brothers as a group, Sir Alex Ferguson created a close-knit and reassuring environment for his protégés at Manchester United.

David O'Leary has followed suit at Leeds and is reaping the rewards. The latest beneficiaries are Harry Redknapp's West Ham youngsters - Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole and Michael Carrick.

Carrick is a six-foot Geordie from Wallsend who began his career as a striker with Newcastle but, since signing for West Ham six years ago, has reinvented himself as a midfielder with an eye for goal.

His rise to prominence has, in many ways, been overshadowed by that of Cole. But Carrick, who is the best of friends with Kevin Keegan's latest selection, is not in the least concerned. "I'm happy for Joe, but it's not because he's in the England squad that I'm suddenly going to panic and say, 'I've got to get there as soon as possible'. Yes, we push each other and it's nice to see one or the other do well, but we use it only as a positive."

On Friday night, Carrick earned his second cap at Under-21 level in England's1-1 draw with Germany. The 19-year-old was not playing alongside any of his club teammates, but such was the quality of his performance that you could be forgiven for thinking he was in a nondescript reserves match at Upton Park rather than an important international.

Carrick passed, probed and orchestrated the performance so maturely from the centre of midfield that it cannot be too long before he joins his three West Ham companions in gaining full England honours.

Howard Wilkinson, the FA technical director and manager of the Under-21 team, is confident he can groom Carrick for the senior squad: "Michael is a very able footballer, someone who looks comfortable in possession and is not afraid to carry the ball forward. He is a great asset."

Carrick was not only instrumental in keeping the England midfield ticking over in confined spaces, he also proved himself to be a considerable threat at set-pieces. His right-footed free-kick five minutes before half-time was perfectly delivered on to Titus Bramble's head for the opener.

England went on to have Stephen Wright sent off and then conceded a late equaliser, but the performance was encouraging, particularly when you consider how many new faces were in the team.

"We started a bit nervously," Wilkinson said, "but that was unsurprising considering it was such a new-look side. But we gradually got things going and there were more plus points than negatives. I thought we were the better side and did not get the result wedeserved."

Playing well without getting points is something Carrick has been used to so far this season. Having broken into the West Ham first team, he has quickly found himself fighting for every point. It has, Carrick admits, been a baptism of fire. "We've been up against it in the League, but we're all playing well. We were worried after three games, but we're turning the corner now."

And Carrick believes that Redknapp's trust in his young players will be rewarded. "The great thing about Harry is that he lets us get on with things. He trusts us and the way the youth system works. That's why I like the club so much. When I came down from Newcastle, I knew it was a long way away, but I just felt comfortable in a West Ham shirt."

Carrick can now say the same with regard to the England jersey.

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