At Tottenham Hotspur they say that no one has struck a ball better with both feet since Glenn Hoddle was clipping 60-yard passes around White Hart Lane. At West Ham they say he was a greater natural talent than Joe Cole. This month, Manchester United finally committed £10m - at least - to buying him. Michael Carrick has a great set of references, so why can he not get a game for England? Or, put another way, what is it that Sven Goran Eriksson has against him?
Those who have played with Carrick rate him as the best genuinely two-footed player in the Premiership, so assured striking the ball with either that he often cannot remember whether a killer pass or cross was hit with the left or the right. A stooped, strong athlete who stands well over 6ft, he fits the languid, leggy prototype for the modern midfielder.
Alan Pardew rates him highly, to the extent that the West Ham manager put the case in these pages on Saturday for deploying Carrick instead of Frank Lampard to lend balance to the England midfield. Sir Alex Ferguson thinks he is good enough to thrive in the centre of United's midfield. Yet with England, Carrick finds himself third in the queue behind Jamie Carragher, a converted centre-back, and Owen Hargreaves, the German exile Eriksson hardly ever sees play.
When the bibs were handed out at training yesterday, Carrick will have felt a familiar anguish. England's performance against Trinidad & Tobago has launched a serious debate over the nature of the midfield and the possibility of a place in it for Carrick, yet Hargreaves trained in that role yesterday and it seems he will play there tomorrow.
The inside view on the 24-year-old is that he is not the greatest trainer in the world. Not lazy and not a shirker, just not a player who demands attention. In the intensely competitive atmosphere of the England training ground there are those, like Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney, who force themselves to the fore and those like Carrick who seem content in the shadow team, drilling the first XI.
Those who have played with Carrick say it is not uncommon to get the better of him in training during the week and then watch in awe as he dominates the match on Saturday. In England matches in the middle of the season, Eriksson often gives the impression he has the team in his head before the squad meets; in the hothouse of a World Cup a great deal more rests on training sessions.
Do not discount Hargreaves - although a lot of England's support unfortunately seem to have done that already - as he fulfils all the criteria that Eriksson thinks most important. A reliable tackler, a neat passer and a powerful athlete, he is prized by the kind of cautious European coaching fraternity to which Eriksson belongs. Carrick has a job on his hands to supplant him and his performance against Belarus on 25 May was a prime opportunity to do that.
He fluffed his lines that night, and Eriksson bears grudges with the best of them. It will not have done the Tottenham man's mood any good to read yesterday morning that even his club manager, Martin Jol, would not pick him for England. Some support Jol proved to be, though it seems that Carrick has played his last game for Tottenham anyway.
When he moved there in the summer of 2004 he came as a Frank Arnesen signing who was ignored until Jol replaced Jacques Santini. Before that, Carrick lost a major part of his early career to groin injuries. Now on his way to United, he will join a dressing-room of strong personalities: Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand, Alan Smith and Ryan Giggs await. The new boy will attempt to fill the shoes of Roy Keane, a task which has already seen a few high-profile failures.
Around Baden-Baden, Carrick is quiet and unostentatious, spending time with his girlfriend Lisa Roughead, his parents and brothers. At a restaurant this weekend, a waiter proudly told me how he had served an England footballer and produced an autograph to prove it. "Just one question," he said. "Who is he?" It was the squad's No 18, a serious talent - Carrick just needs to start advertising it.
What they say about Carrick
"He always plays such a big part for us. I think he deserves a place in the England side." - Martin Jol, in September
"Eriksson has to find a way of getting the most out of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard. That means putting Carrick in the holding role, allowing Lampard and Gerrard to push on without leaving the defence unprotected." - Terry Venables
"I feel that our best team includes Carrick. If we want to win the World Cup and win it with a bit of style, he needs to play. He keeps the ball and keeps the ball moving." - Alan Pardew
"Eriksson must now play Carrick. His instinct is to pass the ball, something England omitted to do almost totally against Trinidad & Tobago. Without a rhythm of passing, England can do nothing. Their football is antediluvian." - James LawtonReuse content