After 11 years of patrolling the Manchester United midfield under Sir Alex Ferguson, David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and José Mourinho, it’s widely expected that Michael Carrick will depart in the summer once his contract expires.
The former Spurs and West Ham man has always been criminally under-rated by football fans around the country but Reds supporters have never doubted the influence he has on the club, and his testimonial in June could be a final farewell to Old Trafford.
If a decision is made against extending the 35-year-old’s prolonged stay this summer, it’ll be an incredibly tough job filling the void left behind. Here Alex Turk looks at who would be fit the bill to make an instant impact in his place in the heart of the Mourinho evolution.
Casemiro (Real Madrid)
Casemiro would be ideal for this current United team. The midfield looks ready for him to just slot into alongside Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera. Allowing that duo to carry out very similar roles to the Brazilian’s current partners Luka Modric and Toni Kroos. Pogba does the same job as Modric in terms of linking the defence with the attack, while Herrera and Kroos are assigned to do the same thing by dictating the play in the middle and controlling the intensity. What Casemiro does well is playing as the deepest of the three and protecting the defence by sweeping up passes as a ball-winning midfielder, while also being very strong in the tackle due to the aggressive nature of his game.
A transfer is unlikely however, because after being overlooked by Rafael Benítez during his stint at the Bernabeu, Casemiro is now loved by Zinedine Zidane, who treats him as a first-choice player, and the Brazilian has certainly repaid him for his faith with last term’s Champions League Final Man of the Match award a highlight of his career so far. His permanent move to the Spanish capital from São Paulo in 2013 for a fee of £5m was seen as a bargain and he’s already won seven major honours, including two Champions Leagues. Casemiro isn’t a prolific goal-scorer and doesn’t even assist teammates as much as some of the other midfielders of his calibre, but he does the job he’s given very well.
Tiemoué Bakayoko (AS Monaco)
Powerful, strong, skilful and energetic. Sounds like the perfect player, right? Tiemoué Bakayoko is a shuttling footballer who loves to get into both the opposition box and his own box, which makes him a different midfielder than Carrick but one with the traits to easily transform into a midfield anchorman. The 22-year-old gloats in physical battles because of his power and physique and effectively uses his stature to move out of dangerous positions with the ball in deep areas.
He would need time to adapt to the holding position, so it could be better if Mourinho was to go for a ready-made talent but Bakayoko definitely has the quality to shine at one of Europe’s biggest clubs in the future. The Frenchman made his professional debut when he was 19 before AS Monaco bought him for a hefty £7m just a year later. Since then he’s turned into an indispensable member of the most exciting squad in the modern game under Leonardo Jardim this season, and now is known to be a primary target for United’s Premier League rivals Chelsea.
Koke (Atlético Madrid)
Atlético Madrid’s Saúl Ñíguez has been on the radar of many top clubs for a while now but it’s his midfield companion Jorge Resurrección Merodio, more commonly known as Koke, that would be a valued acquisition for any team at this stage of his career. Only Lionel Messi has registered more La Liga assists than the 25-year-old over the last four years, an impressive statistic considering he’s matured into more of a holding midfielder after being utilised in an advanced role in past seasons. Koke has been described as the ‘perfect José Mourinho player’ because of his tenacious, aggressive style, as well as being able to strive in big matches.
Loyalty could be a spanner in the works if United are interested in his services though. The Madrid-born versatile midfielder joined the Los Rojiblancos youth academy at the age of eight, made his first team debut at 17 and has made 300 club appearances since. One of his largest assets is how quickly he can change from absorbing pressure to starting attacks and he has earned recognition from big names, including Barcelona legend Xavi who described him as the “conductor of Spain’s orchestra for the next 10 years”.
William Carvalho (Sporting CP)
William Carvalho, also aged 25, has shown endless similarities with Carrick throughout his career, mainly because of the way he likes to sit back and control the tempo of the game, as well as boasting eloquent long-range passing traits - only Pizzi and Pedrinho completed more long balls in the Primeira Liga this season. The six foot two holding midfielder is physical, composed on the ball, can switch play from almost anywhere and has even added assists to his game in the current campaign, most notably linking up fantastically with young winger Gelson Martins, which has made him even more effective.
Hailing from Luanda, he’s been a crucial part of the first team plans at Sporting CP since being promoted from the academy ranks in 2011 at just 19. Carvalho has also made 30 appearances for the Portuguese national side after experience from from U16 to U21 level, and he was a key figure in their 2016 European Championship-winning side in the summer. Valued at £24m, Carvalho would certainly be good value for money if he can replicate the qualities he’s shown in Portugal in the Premier League and is likely to be one of the names on José Mourinho’s replacement wish list, bearing in mind he’s been heavily monitored by the club in the past.
Fabinho (AS Monaco)
This player is the one that Manchester United need to make a priority in the upcoming transfer window, he’s Bakayoko’s central midfield partner at AS Monaco and is considered as the better of the two. Just like William Carvalho, Fabinho undertakes the same role as Michael Carrick, being the protector of the defensive line, but he has developed into a brilliant box-to-box player, with his imposing interception skills making him one of the best all-round midfielders in world football. His composure in the middle of the park has proved vital in what could be a historic Ligue 1-winning campaign and Champions League run, which has seen Monaco to the brink of a semi—final place in Europe’s elite competition.
The tall, powerful Brazilian can also fill in at right back if needed, and played there when coming through the youth ranks at Paulínia and Fluminese. He also operated there during his brief loan spell at Real Madrid. So with the no. 2 shirt vacant at Old Trafford since Rafael da Silva’s move to Lyon in 2015, the £30m-rated man would be seamless as a defensive midfielder or even right-back with Antonio Valencia now over the age of 30. Fabinho said in February, prior to helping eliminate the Reds’ city rivals from the Champions League, that it is his “objective to play for a club with the dimension of Manchester United”, and added that he’ll “keep working so the rumour (of him playing in the famous Red shirt) will become a reality.” It is no secret that he’s keen on a move.