For a long while, Manchester United’s Michael Carrick seemed to be in equal parts revered and derided by the English footballing world, the midfielder having picked up a meagre 34 national team caps despite consistently being one of the first names on the team-sheet for his club.
Many, though, have credited him with helping the Red Devils return to form after a rocky start to life under Mourinho (“rocky” here is a byword for disastrous).
Although Carrick has neither the technical flair of Paul Scholes, nor the imposing personality of Roy Keane, the former Tottenham man, who arrived at Old Trafford in 2006, has always been a steady performer on whom his managers can rely.
Put simply: you don’t always notice when he plays, but you do when he doesn’t – something United’s results this season have made perfectly clear.
There’s just one problem, though: Carrick will be 36 by the beginning of next season, and while a few extra grey hairs doesn’t necessarily mean your career is dead (just ask Zlatan), United fans – and more to the point, Mourinho – will have to face up to the fact he won’t be around forever.
Louis van Gaal appeared to have earmarked Morgan Schneiderlin as Carrick’s natural successor, having convinced the club to pay Southampton £24M for him back in 2015. His replacement doesn’t seem to agree, though, and the Frenchman is expected to depart Old Trafford before the end of the January transfer window.
United are now being linked with expensive moves for the likes of Toni Kroos and Saul Niguez – but if they’re in the market for someone who can keep it ticking over in midfield, they might want to look a little closer to home.
Daley Blind has mainly been used as a left-back this season, but the Dutchman, along with showing up Alan Pardew at Wembley, was one of the few bright spots from the Van Gaal era.
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Blind doesn’t have the power to play at the heart of defence, neither the pace to be a modern day full-back, but he does have plenty going for him as a sitting midfielder. He’s calm and collected in possession, with the ability to pick out forward passes. He’s also tactically astute, having been schooled in Ajax’s famed youth academy.
Mourinho is partial to a disciplined, all-action number six in front of his back four: Makelele at Chelsea, Cambiasso at Inter, Khedira at Real Madrid. Although he doesn’t have the same star power, Blind is more than capable of stacking up – and it wouldn’t cost United a penny.