Blog Post, Clubs, Manchester United, Michael Carrick

Michael Carrick, right, was finally the centre of attention at Manchester United in his testimonial match on Sunday.

MANCHESTER, England — For once, it was all about him.

Michael Carrick has made a career out of being the quiet man. Even after 11 years, 459 games and 12 major trophies, there are still Manchester United fans who are not quite sure what it is he does.

There is an argument, a good one, that Carrick is the most underappreciated player of his generation.

But on Sunday at Old Trafford, 70,027 United fans turned up at his testimonial to watch United’s 2008 Champions League winners against an all-star team to show he has not gone completely under the radar.

He didn’t have it all his own way.

His name was misspelled on the official team sheet. Thankfully, United got it right when they laid out the flags for a mosaic in his honour along the bottom tier in the Sir Alex Ferguson stand.

It wasn’t just Carrick who was being remembered.

The game was moved forward after the One Love Manchester concert, held in tribute to the victims of the terrorist attack in the city 13 days ago, was scheduled at Old Trafford cricket ground, just across the road.

There was a minute’s silence before kickoff. And the armed police officers and bomb-sniffing dogs patrolling the stadium forecourts was a reminder of what happened at the Manchester Arena and in London less than 24 hours earlier.

Family members of the 22 victims of the arena bombing, as well as 300 emergency service workers who responded, were in the crowd.

“The game now has extra significance in the light of what happened last week,” Carrick said on the pitch before kickoff. “I extend my condolences to everyone in Manchester and, after last night, also in London, who has suffered as a result. Stay strong and stay together.”

It was a typically appropriate message from a player who has rarely put a foot wrong, on or off the pitch.

Carrick was central to United’s period of success under Ferguson after the Glazer family takeover in 2005.

Manchester United
Wayne Rooney, left, may well have played his final match at Old Trafford in Manchester United colours as a part of Michael Carrick’s testimonial.

After winning the championship in 2003, United finished third, third and second — then their longest period without a title in the Premier League era. But it was Carrick’s arrival in the summer of 2006, an £18.7 million signing from Tottenham, that helped trigger another golden era.

He won the title in each of his first three seasons, as well as the League Cup and the Champions League. He has been part of five title-winning teams and played in three Champions League finals. His late goal at Wigan in May 2009 helped win that particular race.

Since Ferguson’s retirement in 2013, Carrick has added the FA Cup and the Europa League to complete his set of domestic and European trophies.

How he has won just 34 England caps is still a mystery. Phil Neville, on the bench for the all-stars, won 59.

There is a theory that Carrick would have played more internationals had he been Spanish.

And among the tributes in the match programme was one from Xabi Alonso: “Michael is somebody who knows how to be in the right place at the right time.” There are few better qualified to judge a midfielder.

United’s team from the 2008 Champions League final against Chelsea in Moscow is considered one of Ferguson’s best, alongside his double winners in 1994 and the treble winners in 1999.

Ferguson, back in the dugout, was able to pick eight of his starting XI from that night nine years ago in Carrick, Edwin van der Sar, Patrice Evra, Wes Brown, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Paul Scholes and Wayne Rooney.

Cristiano Ronaldo was absent, busy winning a fourth Champions League the night before.

John Terry, who captained the all-stars, played a key role in United’s success in Moscow by missing a crucial penalty in the penalty shootout. He was reminded of it by the United fans every time he touched the ball.

There is still a chance that Carrick, 36 this summer, will be part of United’s next great team having agreed a new one-year contract.

Rooney’s future is less clear, and this could yet end up being his last game at Old Trafford. Ryan Giggs and Evra looked like they could still do a job if Jose Mourinho decided to pick up the phone.

It was fitting, though, that Carrick had the last word. From Rooney’s lay-off he lashed the ball past Shay Given from the edge of the box, as good as any of his 24 goals for United, to make the final score 2-2.

A few minutes later he went off to a standing ovation. Finally, the centre of attention.

Rob is ESPN FC’s Manchester United correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @RobDawsonESPN.

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