Date:26th May 2011 at 6:46pm
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Very few players have polarised Manchester United fans the way Michael Carrick has.

Since his signing in 2006 there has always been somewhat of a cloud over him in some form or another. If it wasn’t his price tag then it was the ridiculous comparisons with the departed Roy Keane (it didn’t help that he acquired Keane’s old number) but in more recent times it has been another issue that has split fans.

Despite some being sceptical about his signing there is no denying that early on he was as good as gold. His passing was brilliant and his forays forward were beneficial to the team and looking at his performance against Roma in 2007 it is easy to see why he accrued as many fervent fans as he had, including Sir Alex who claimed that he was instrumental to United regaining the title in 2007.

No matter what your stance is on Carrick it is impossible to deny his talent. A particular memory I have of him is a pass he played in a game against Newcastle in February 2008. Already 1-0 down, Newcastle made the mistake of giving him time and space and he made them pay. Having picked up an interception by Rooney you can see Carrick waiting for the perfect moment to release the ball to the on running Ronaldo. He plays the pass, right between the right back and the center back, for Ronaldo to race onto and slot home. The ball was perfect and left both defenders in two minds whether to try and intercept or to track Ronaldo, in the end they fell on the sword of indecision as by the time either were ready to act Ronaldo had placed the ball past Given.

In typing it sounds amazingly intricate but to watch, it happens in a matters of seconds.

For his first few seasons there were relatively few complaints about Carrick – until that night in Rome in 2009.

Before I commence it must be said few if any came out of that game with positives or glory. As a team we had bombed on the biggest stage but I guess it is because the game was won/lost in Carrick’s domain, the midfield, that such emphasis is placed on him. He himself has few fond memories of the night and described it as the worst of his career stating:

“The game just seemed to pass us by and we were unable to do anything about it. I suppose when you look at the big picture, it was still another Champions League final.”

His hangover from the game is much storied and is something that most will point to when talking of the midfielder but it was a serious problem. He was notably dropped early in the 2009/2010 season as his form was suffering badly and found the fans that he had won over had begun to turn on him and it has been that way since.

People are quick to call his name following a poor team showing, laying the blame at his door when in all likelihood (as against Barcelona in Rome) that any poor result is a team effort.

I saw a brilliant quote on Carrick by Georgina Turner who stated:

It’s always harder to crack a safe with the police coming through the window.

And I feel this is by and large one of the main problems with the midfielder, how he operates under pressure. Given that he has been asked to operate in a more defensive capacity it is easier to spot him giving away the ball or being harangued off the ball under duress as it subsequently puts pressure on our defence, as was the case when he gave away the corner from which Arjen Robben scored that remarkable volley in last season’s Champions League quarter final.

More recently this hasn’t been a problem as Carrick appears to finally be shaking off the dark cloak that Rome left on his shoulders. Even his most ardent critics were forced to applaud his performances against Chelsea and Schalke as he laid a claim to the player of the tie against Chelsea and helped United cruise past an under gunned Schalke.

Those that had been calling for his head and cheered as he was linked with moves to Sunderland or a return to Tottenham suddenly became fans as he played that sumptuous ball to Giggs who then put it on a plate for Rooney who gave us a 1-0 in the first leg at Stamford Bridge.

His rehabilitation has been a slow but steady one and whilst we are happy that he appears to be raising his game to the levels expected of a Manchester United player, there comes one final test. He must return to the scene of the crime and face Barcelona again.

This Saturday’s clash will once again see him face off against Xavi and Iniesta who tormented him in the Olimpico just 2 years ago. It will give a true indication of how far he has come in terms of his return to form. It won’t be easy and he will need whoever else is selected with him in the middle of the park to make his job as easy as possible (is there such thing as an easy game against a Barcelona midfield?) but as long as he is effective in his shielding of the defence and is effective in his distribution then there will be no complaints.

In today’s Daily Mirror Carrick insisted that he is good enough and up to the job of being a United midfielder but it is his football rather than his utterances that will convince his detractors. So far he has done a good job despite some blips but he can put this beyond doubt with another outstanding European performance at Wembley on Saturday night.

Something he is more than capable of.