Before we proceed any further, a warning: this is a piece about Michael Carrick. Just 14 words in and that gurgling you may have heard was a gut reaction regarding our subject matter, whether positive or negative.
This is because Carrick does not so much divide opinion as surgically splice it. The England and Manchester United midfielder is one of those players who treads football’s cultural fault line and has become a key battleground between two warring factions: those who worship at the altar of analytics and mathematics and those for whom football is a more sensory experience.
Is he a short-passing savant who recycles the ball with effortless grace, keeping it ticking over and keeping it away from opponents as his pass completion rate pushes into the low 90s? Or is he essentially a cowardly midfielder who hides behind short prods to team-mates, skulking in the background while more charismatic, dynamic players win matches ahead of him?
Manchester United’s position on Carrick has been abundantly clear ever since he joined the club from Tottenham in the summer of 2006. A five-times Premier League winner and European champion in 2009 under Sir Alex Ferguson, it is reported that successor David Moyes has now persuaded the Glazer family to make an exception and offer a player in excess of 30 years old a two-year contract.
To United – if not all United fans – Carrick is indispensable. A successor to Scholes, the Wallsend Xavi. But curiously - in an arena where, it is always said, possession football is king – he has never managed to enjoy the same status at international level, having become victim to the big names and big games of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, the perpetrators of England's perpetual midfield torment.
However, there was a brief flicker right at the end of England’s successful World Cup qualifying campaign which suggested that revolution was in the air. Having ousted the ageing Lampard – who was desperately poor in the penultimate win over Montenegro – Carrick produced a mature and influential performance in the 2-0 win over Poland, breaking up opposition attacks and helping England’s midfield exert no small amount of control.
It seemed, finally, that a man who has made only one appearance in a major finals – during the 2006 World Cup against Ecuador – and missed Euro 2012 as Roy Hodgson was under the mistaken impression he had retired from international football, had earned the chance to make a compelling claim for his inclusion on a more permanent basis. A player who has won only 31 caps, and never attained double figures under a single coach, looked ready to assume a place in his country’s midfield after enjoying untouchable status in Manchester United's for so long.
Which makes the news that he will miss the two upcoming friendlies against Chile and Germany all the more galling for Carrick and his country. Two impressive performances – and especially against the lustrous Germans - might have convinced Hodgson he deserved a starting role at the World Cup finals. To be denied the chance to audition is cruel.
As Jack Wilshere continues to grapple with the challenge of finding a place in the Arsenal XI, and ending up on the wing, and Lampard’s quality ekes inexorably away, England could do with an in-form Carrick, a player to keep hold of the ball in Brazil and treat it with care. The brilliant Ross Barkley and the rather more mediocre Tom Cleverley are options further forward, but in terms of deep midfielders, Carrick should be an essential component for England looking ahead to next summer’s finals.
Imagine, the pressure is on at the Maracana, England’s players are drenched in sweat in the 80th minute and protecting a 1-0 lead. Who would you rather have shielding the ball, calming things down and dictating the pace of the game: Carrick, or Lampard, whose glut of goals at the end of last season and his feat in breaking Chelsea’s goalscoring record have obscured his decline as a genuine force in central midfield?
Lampard, arguably, has been on borrowed time as an England international since September 2012, when Fabio Capello dropped him for the first time in four years as Gareth Barry and Scott Parker started a Euro 2012 qualifier against Bulgaria. Though he has since regained his place and been one of the more prominent players under Hodgson, his grip on a starting place is gradually becoming precarious.
Carrick could have loosened it further had injury not denied him the chance. There will be more friendlies prior to the World Cup finals, but this was nevertheless a big chance missed for a player on whom a country is still undecided.