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Steady Carrick deserves PFA award

Consistency trumps boring style of play

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I'll admit it.

I did a double-take when I saw the shortlist for the 2012-13 Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) Player of the Year Award.

That Robin van Persie was on it was really no surprise, even though he went five matches without scoring between February and April. And Gareth Bale, who will likely win the thing at an awards gala later this month, has been the most exciting player in the Premier League so far this season, if not its best.

Chelsea were recognized with two finalists -- Juan Mata and Eden Hazard -- but while Mata has been important in the Blues' pursuit of Champions League football he has also been rather inconsistent. Hazard, meanwhile, will win this award at least once in the future, just you wait.

Even Luis Suarez deserved his place on the list. He may be a reprehensible human being, but he also leads the division with 22 goals and has routinely earned points for Liverpool all by himself.

Then there's Michael Carrick.

At 31, the Manchester United midfielder is the elder statesman of the sextet, and with only a single Premier League goal this campaign is also, and by far, its least flashy.

He is also a divisive figure among United fans, some of whom value the consistency and passing ability he brings to the table while others downplay his skill set and insist his passes go sideways and backwards instead of up the field.

But the key word here is "consistency," which in a season where performances from many of the Premier League's best players have been wildly erratic is an unusually welcome, comforting and even game-changing attribute.

And Carrick has shown more of it than any of his rivals for the PFA gong. That he even made the shortlist suggests many of his peers are of the same mind.

Don't forget, the PFA members completed the voting process last month, so the six players in question are finalists rather than nominees. Which means a good many Premier League players hold Carrick in high esteem, and as he is the only central midfielder on the shortlist it seems they consider him to be the finest at his position, as well.

Personally, I've never been all that high on Carrick.

He is so completely unspectacular, so often unnoticeable, that I've often wondered how United didn't go out and get the upgrade for him that must surely be out there and easy to find.

Then again, they'd be hard pressed to find one with four Premier League titles and a European Cup to his name -- none of which he achieved by being a passenger.

The statistics bear him out as well.

Through 32 Premier League appearances (he has only missed one game this season) Carrick has attempted 2,442 passes (more than anyone else in the English top flight) and has managed to complete 2,151 of them--good for a completion percentage of 88.1. And his 74 per cent completion rate for long passes has him close to category leader Steven Gerrard, who is on 78 per cent.

Game in, game out, Carrick stitches play together in the centre of the park for a team that happens to be 13 points clear atop the Premier League and only two wins shy of the title.

An understated contribution, perhaps, but a vital one just the same. And I'm not sure United would be where they are without his help.

In a season that has been wholly unglamorous and volatile, it might be appropriate to recognize a player who, since August, has managed to be one without being the other. Consistency has been rare these last eight months, and because of that Carrick is getting some much-deserved recognition.

Well done to the PFA membership for pointing that out, and for winning me over.

jerradpeters@gmail.com Twitter @jerradpeters

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 20, 2013 C7

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