With three former West Ham graduates likely to be stepping out at the Lane at some stage this afternoon, Michael Carrick will be seeking to show that Frank Lampard and Joe Cole are not the only ones to have made big strides since opting to ply their trade at another point on London’s footballing map.
The 24-year-old swapped E13 for N17 just over a year ago and, since becoming a fixture in the heart of Martin Jol’s midfield following the Head Coach’s appointment in November, he has recaptured and built on the form that saw him win England recognition at the age of 19.
From the Carling Cup date with Burnley at Turf Moor last season, Michael has missed just one of our subsequent 36 games and fulfilled Martin’s early prediction that he would become ‘our fourth England player’.
This came true when he was recalled to the international set-up for England’s summer tour to the USA and won two further caps against the hosts and Colombia. It was just reward for his continued development and turning into the player he has long promised to be.
“I think I am improving,” agreed the elegant middleman. “You take things as they come, keep working hard and try to get better all the time.
“I have definitely improved since I came here about a year ago and I want to improve again this season.”
Martin has, for a little while, challenged the pass-master to become a more complete player in the next stage of his progression by adding a dash of aggression to his midfield mix. It is something he takes on board and aims to sometimes be more robust in his play, but points out change is likely to be subtle and he doesn’t anticipate becoming an enforcer-type on the pitch.
“I just want to improve — simple as that,” he reasoned. “If I can add things to my game over what I already do then it will be beneficial for me as a player. There is not one particular area of my game I want to make big strides in, it is just overall really.
“There are different ways of adding aggression — I am not going to go around fighting anyone! It is about making tackles at the right time and defending properly, but I think that comes within the team unit.
“The gaffer doesn’t want anybody to start kicking people, he just wants us to defend with a bit of aggression in a positive way.
“We believe we can keep clean sheets and score goals. It is a good recipe for success but, obviously, easier said than done.”
Such were Michael’s displays in the USA, he was also named in the squad for England’s friendly encounter with Denmark last week and is now targeting retention for the forthcoming World Cup double-header against Wales and Northern Ireland.
The call-up meant a reunion with old friends from his West Ham days, Cole and Lampard, as well as Rio Ferdinand.
“It was good to be called up, but early days and there wasn’t much going on in-between both squads being named. It was nice to still be in there in what was pretty much a full-strength squad.
“To be in there was great and I am looking to stay in there now. There is a big squad coming up next week, I hope to be in that and will then take it one step at a time.
“It was great to see the boys again as I hadn’t seen a couple of them for a while. It felt good to be back in the fold again and feel part of things.”
Michael has nothing but praise for the achievements of the two ex-Hammers he will come up against this afternoon and insists Lampard fully warranted the Player of the Year accolade from the football writers and Cole the plaudits that came with him forcing his way back into the team at both domestic and international level.
“Frank is one of the best trainers I have worked with and he always wants to do more,” he reported. “He really has worked on his game and, if anyone deserves success, Frank does for the way he goes about his business.
“It is all credit to him that he was named as the best player in the league.
“Around Christmas time there was talk about Joe leaving the club. He forced his way back into the team and was probably one of their best players in the last two or three months of the season.
“Again that is credit to him. He has worked hard on his game, improved and kept believing in himself. He has got himself back in the England team now and it speaks volumes for him.”
Onto the matter in hand and Michael, while paying due credit to Chelsea’s status as Premiership title holders, insists preparations have very much centred on playing to our own strengths and suggested our in-form strikers could well be key to the destination of the points.
“Obviously you have got to give them a bit of respect as champions. They are a fantastic team but we are at the stage at the moment where we believe if we play well we can beat anyone.
“We are focusing primarily on ourselves. You’ve got to take into consideration the way they play, but we will be looking to perform right ourselves and get the right result.
“Chances are hard to come by when you play Chelsea and if you create a couple in a game you are looking for someone like Jermain, Mido or Robbie to stick them away for you. It might well be a half-chance that wins the game.”