by Daisy Cutter

This summer Andrea Pirlo bewitched the watching continent with a series of wonderful and stylish performances that defined the modern-day holding role.

He schemed from deep whenever possible or linked effortlessly with a simple touch when it was not, possession always retained with a Catholic Orthodoxy. Defensively he covered spaces intelligently and stayed on his feet, shepherding opponents into areas they’d rather not go. It was overall a masterclass of poise, precision and scrappy urbanity and proved beyond measure that a midfield anchor does not need to be made of steel.

In the final of the Euros he and his Italian team-mates encountered a Spanish side peaking into greatness bolstered by a similar technician in Sergio Busquets. Within a team that grinds opponents down by relentless artistry it is Busquet’s duty to receive, release and move over and over again, in essence a contradiction: a mobile pivot. This is all achieved with such clever movement that rarely does a grass stain besmirch his shorts.

Between them these players have reinvented the defensive midfield position and because of them football is a prettier sight for the eyes. And there are more too. Khedira, De Rossi, Lucas, Martinez…

Against an energetic and enterprising Polish side on Wednesday Roy Hodgson decided to employ Michael Carrick in such a role. The pedestrian and functional Michael Carrick, straight-backed and gormless in expression, whose simple lay-offs firstly require a ponderous control before a laboured touch and whose side-footed strokes into the channels are so signposted the defender has time to consider what he’s going to do with the ball before intercepting it.

As often happens in an England shirt the lad had a shocker which, in itself, is not something the fair amongst us can overly be critical of. But when a player so limited in scope has a ‘mare truly then do his limitations show through. Carrick was stuck in neutral, devoid of creativity and gave balls away as cheaply as JJB in their closing down sale. Worse yet any player worth his salt recognizes early on when he is ‘off’ that day, adapts his game accordingly and sticks rigidly to the basics – find your team-mate, move the ball on and up your work-load to compensate. Carrick did none of these things and persisted to instead attempt searching passes that were cut out with ease and make a litany of wrong decisions (crimes at the best of times but punishable by flogging against a Polish side who break so swiftly).

When the boy from Wallsend first emerged through that exciting West Ham team full of promise and youth great expectations were heaped upon his slender shoulders. He has systematically failed to live up to even a sliver of that expectation. United fans will insist Carrick has been excellent at times but going back to his Upton Park roots far more was hoped for him than a run of impressive performances here and there. He was considered as a future classy fulcrum to hold steady a new dawn of English football, an era when we finally embraced the continental ways of our cousins across the sea and merited technical ability over commitment and endeavour. With Joe Cole twinkling and Gerrard bombing on it was Carrick who was destined to be the link-man, and do so with panache without rolled-up sleeves and a growl. Depressingly I see the same over-estimation now being attributed to Jack Wilshere and perhaps it is this sustained feeling of national inferiority that resulted from years of Charlie Hughes percentage play and an up-and-at-em mentality that in turn resulted in years of over-estimating anyone who could trap a ball and look up at the same time.

It is time now for us to acknowledge fully that we have numerous players blessed with natural technical ability, players who are capable of – and do – play the right way.

Once this is accepted we then must realise that in the time we’ve spent obsessing on our technical short-comings the game has now moved on again in another direction. Players traditionally thought of as liberos are now stationed where the damage is done on 21st century fields. In the centre, orchestrating from deep. Construction rather than destruction. Staffing a one-dimensional player such as Carrick in there – the footballing equivalent of sex with your socks on – sets us back decades. And we’ve just spent decades trying to rectify that.