About eight months ago, I wrote an article about where the worlds of Harry Potter and football collide, when fiction becomes fact and why every team does indeed need a Ron. The article (here: https://everyteamneedsaron.wordpress.com/2012/12/08/every-team-needs-a-ron-2/) does seem a little dated now, even after this short space of time; for example, it speaks of the vital role Scott Parker was playing and the importance of De Jong at Manchester City. So it seemed appropriate to pen a second edition, in particular bringing in the ‘Is Michael Carrick actually any good?’ argument.
First of all though, what exactly is a Ron? To summarise from the previous article, they are hardworking, reliable, trustworthy, below the radar players – the straight man of the central midfield partnership if you will, allowing their team-mates to burst forward without fearing a deadly counter-attack. They can go for years without getting any attention or plaudits and tend to only be appreciated when they’re gone, like Mathieu Flamini at Arsenal for example.
Manchester City stupidly let De Jong leave in the summer, an extraordinarily poor move considering that Yaya Toure, one of their most effective players, could only unleash his full power when De Jong was hanging back protectively. The midfield trio of Barry-De Jong-Toure was, in my opinion, one of the principle reasons why City managed to win their first ever Premier League title. This season they do not close to challenging United, who haven’t even been playing that well, and Toure hasn’t been playing as well as he did last year. Coincidence? No. Last year he was an unstoppable force; in the Manchester derbies I was struck by fear every time he received the ball, knowing that there was a good chance he would surge forward and score.
In the same way that a striker cannot score if he doesn’t have good creative midfielders giving him chances, a midfield powerhouse like Yaya Toure cannot fully function without an anchoring Ron of a midfielder behind him. Because City’s line-up is very attacking, not all of their defenders are exactly ‘solid’ and players like David Silva unlikely to track back effectively, it was necessary to have two players to hang back for Toure to work effectively. Barry and De Jong acted as the Ron to counterbalance Toure, and the rest of the team’s, Harry and Hermione. This season, a vital part of that grounding force is gone and City just aren’t the same side.
Part of the reason for Swansea’s extraordinary season on a comparatively low budget, despite its recent stagnation, has been players like Jonathan de Guzman, Kemy Agustien and Leon Britton. While Swansea’s style is fluid and on the whole attacking, these players act as a restraining influence with the ability to put their foot on the ball, control the tempo and create chances. However, they’re not defined by their ability to pick a pass or run at the opposition, they are very understated players who don’t demand attention with lung-busting runs or unbelievable 35-yard goals. They are the kind of players who almost define ‘Ron-ness’. They are below the radar, putting the team before their own reputation and statistics; they get on with the job no matter what.
This brings me onto the Michael Carrick debate. Recently, he’s been getting a lot of praise in the media for work he’s been doing for quite a number of years. It’s possibly because he’s been doing the same years that another group of people feel they need to criticise him; why is he suddenly being praised if his game hasn’t noticeably improved? They, the ‘haters’, come to the conclusion that it’s all a lot of fuss over nothing but the truth of the matter is that players like Carrick, Rons, are only just being appreciated very recently.
Scott Parker’s PFA player of the year award last year, Michael Carrick’s mountains of praise this year and the recent admiration of players like Iniesta and Scholes all represent an understanding, an appreciation, of the role they play. The kind of player who Arsenal so desperately need is a replacement for Viera, to build a solid base for the rest of their attacking outlets to venture forward from. They nearly had something like a replacement in Flamini but they have not recovered since he left the club in 2008. Arsenal’s decline is not actually as long as it appears; despite not winning a trophy since 2005, they were still a serious side (nearly winning the Champions League and Premier League) until after 2008… the year that Flamini left.
But back to Carrick, he is a good player and to those who say he’s not, you clearly don’t think much of Sir Alex Ferguson’s selection policy – the one that’s won him countless amounts of trophies over the years and established United as one of the best sides in the world. Generally, if you are arguing against Sir Alex (on an issue that isn’t referees), you are probably on the wrong side and this is true in the Carrick debate. He epitomises what being a ‘Ron’ is about, he oozes ‘Ron-ness’ even if he doesn’t score or set up 50 goals a year or whatever people are asking of him.
Carrick is by no means the best player in the world, but that doesn’t mean that he is not a very good one. He can tackle, he can pick out some fantastic passes and, most importantly, he has fantastic positional awareness, a skill that is massively under-rated. Positional awareness can stop a pass before it is even played, it can render an opposition player useless without even marking them, it can even draw defenders away to leave a gaping hole for your own striker to run into and score. Unlike shooting, tackling or passing ability, it is a skill that is not easily measured or even observed.
Perhaps though, the fact that United have not played well this season but are still managing to run away with the league shows how important Carrick is. If a team does not play convincingly, they can be over-run by opposition teams who can make runs and pick passes straight through the middle of a team. Even if Valencia is tripping over his feet, Van Persie is scuffing his shots and De Gea is living up to his reputation, Carrick’s positional sense will stop an awful lot of attacks from developing. Once the opposing team has passed the ball out of sheer desperation and lost possession, the ball will be given to Carrick (who will have somehow found a few yards of space) and he will have the awareness to pass the ball where it is needed, whether this is sideways or backwards to control the play, or forwards to spark an attack.
Personally, I think that Wilshere and Carrick in the centre of England’s midfield would be a terrific partnership, Carrick providing the experienced head and allowing Wilshere to do what he does best. Unfortunately for England though, Carrick is 31 and heading into his twilight years, meaning that a new ‘Ron’ will have to be found who is fit for the international stage possibly by the time the next European Championships come around in 2016. Until then though, Carrick will continue to be a divisive figure, not through any fault of his own, but for the praise that is, rightly, given to him. You don’t have to like him, just recognise him for the top class ‘Ron’ that he is.