World Cup dream fired by fight for recognition for Michael Carrick
Manchester United midfielder often overlooked
You can forgive Michael Carrick a certain amount of circumspection when it comes to talking about England. This is the player, remember, who was wrongly presumed by Roy Hodgson to have retired from international football when he had not – a misunderstanding which only came to light when the manager failed to name the Manchester United midfielder in his squad for last year's European Championships.
Privately, England still form part of his unfulfilled footballing ambition. Images of Bobby Moore and Pele in Mexico and lifting the World Cup at Wembley are ones he has always said are ingrained in his mind. So, too, his solitary World Cup game – the 1-0 win over Ecuador in 2006 – which remains one of his most cherished moments.
"A World Cup in Brazil has that special ring to it doesn't it? I just want to get there," he said in April, in more intimate surrounds than the England press conference top table, where the glare doesn't suit terribly much.
So, all things considered, Carrick does have grounds for mild indignation about the hand the international game has dealt him. At 32, he has more Premier League titles than Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard put together and yet fewer England caps: just 29. He speaks in the week that the domestic football conversation has turned again to United's dearth of midfielders.
The vague implication, after a season which included a pass to Javier Hernandez by Carrick in the FA Cup described by Rio Ferdinand as "the ball of the season from the most under-rated player in the country", is that manager David Moyes might be able to find better than Carrick. "I've had it for so long," he said of the way that football slightly overlooks him. "It's always been the same."
And of the current fascination with Athletic Bilbao's Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini – a player whose talent actually pales by comparison with his own? "I wasn't annoyed by it, because it was a constant discussion. From one game to the next, you are either the answer or not good enough. That's something you learn to deal with. It's part of the business, that's why you have to be consistent and get to that level because if you are not, questions are asked and you won't win games."
He is more introspective about his football than his reticence suggests. "There's a bit of instinct [in my game], a bit of just talking to people close to me, picking brains of coaches, little bits and pieces," he said. "I'm not one who will sit through the whole game and judge it like that. I know myself instantly in a game how it is going. I've been playing long enough now to try and judge it like that."
The conversation he will be drawn into is the one surrounding the Premier League's foreign legion. A mere dozen of the 77 players who moved for more than £1m this summer were English yet there are seven United players in the squad to face Moldova and Ukraine. One club at least subscribes to the notion of English talent.
"Whether it's economics or whatever I don't know," Carrick said. "Buying abroad is maybe getting more expensive now and British players might come down in price. Maybe it might come back to British and English talent but we need players who are good enough for clubs to go chasing after them in the first place."
Those who catch Carrick in Manchester mixed zones will tell you he wants the results more than he lets on here. He watched the 1990 semi-final defeat to West Germany at home on the sofa and cried when England lost. Euro '96 was the same and Carrick has talked about the way the nation reacted. "Only football can do that to a country. That is what we crave isn't it?" he said earlier this year.
He has looked at the longevity of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, too, and after his time in the wilderness wants to preserve this unexpected international chapter for as long as he can. "It's the next big [England] opportunity, a massive opportunity," he said. "But in terms of it being my last one, I wouldn't say so, no."
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