Manchester United appear to finally be heading in the right direction under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Though his side haven’t won anything under his tutelage, comparisons with Sir Alex Ferguson’s great sides of yesteryear have inevitably been made. And, if they sign Thiago Alcantara from Bayern Munich, they may just be on their way to replacing Michael Carrick.
United signed Carrick from Tottenham back in the summer of 2006, paying £18million to land the midfielder.
At the time, many were critical of the decision. Though the England international had starred for Spurs as they narrowly missed out on the Premier League top four, some thought the Red Devils were overpaying.
Ferguson didn’t, though.
And Carrick proved to be one of his shrewdest signings for the club, with the midfielder helping the club win five Premier League titles during a glittering spell at Old Trafford.
That side, the one he joined, had superstars in their ranks.
There was Cristiano Ronaldo starting to hit his prime, with the Portugal international the undisputed talisman of Ferguson’s side.
They also had Wayne Rooney, a player who would go on to become the club’s all-time leading scorer before leaving for Everton in the summer of 2017.
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And it also had stalwarts like Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, who were both vital for Ferguson despite approaching the twilight years of their respective careers.
But Carrick was what made United tick.
The England international was a slick and smooth operator in the park. He could dictate matches without breaking a sweat, using his footballing intelligence and sensational passing range to make a difference at both ends of the field.
Since his retirement in 2018, however, the 39-year-old has been difficult to replace.
Of all the midfielders currently on the club’s books, none are like the United legend. Nobody is a dictator, an architect, a true midfield maestro.
Bruno Fernandes can run the show but only when the work is being done behind him. He relies on good performances from other players in Solskjaer’s side.
Likewise, Paul Pogba. He’s somebody who can explode into matches, not run them. That, perhaps, was Jose Mourinho’s biggest problem: he signed the right player for the wrong role.
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Nemanja Matic and Fred are both somewhat Carrick-esque but neither has been able to replicate the current United coach’s majestic performances from the middle on a regular basis.
And Scott McTominay still has much work to do as well.
However, should United sign Thiago from Bayern Munich this summer, they may finally be set to replace the 39-year-old.
The Spain international is readying himself for a new challenge away from the German giants after seven successful years at the Allianz Arena, where he’s won every trophy on offer.
Liverpool have widely been considered frontrunners in the race to sign the 29-year-old, with Jurgen Klopp telling the Anfield hierarchy he wants the former Barcelona star signed this summer.
But United are in the picture, too.
They’ve met with Thiago’s agent to discuss terms ahead of a potential move to Old Trafford – although are currently unwilling to shatter their pay structure if it means him touching down.
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Yet they could still be about to bring him to the club, seven years after David Moyes first attempted it.
Thiago, like Carrick, is a midfield general. He makes a difference at both ends of the pitch and, in the recent Champions League final, was a class above as Bayern beat PSG to win the prize.
That night, he clocked up the most passes out of any player on the pitch, managing 75 throughout the course of the 90 minutes and also the most attacking passes in the final third.
Overall he had a 88 per cent passing accuracy, despite often having PSG pair Ander Herrera and Marquinhos snapping at his heels.
And Thiago was successful in all three of his tackles on the night, while also completing two take-ons from two attempts, and two interceptions.
United still lack a Carrick replacement.
But Thiago could just be the answer to that particular problem.
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