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Blessed are the Water Carriers

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Eric Cantona once famously described the role of Didier Deschamp in the French national team as that of a ‘water-carrier’, the impish implication being that he toiled to win the ball and pass it on to more skillful players, such as Cantona himself, so they could weave their magic.

Typical tongue in cheek from King Eric, while making a point, as he liked to do.

However, not for the first time, many may have misinterpreted Cantona’s oft poetic and sometimes insightful musings.

For those of you who remember Deschamps as a player, he wasn’t the type of man to take a back-seat to anybody. He won the Champions League with both Marseille and Juventus, two French titles, three Italian Serie A titles, the UEFA Super Cup and the FA Cup with Chelsea. He also captained France to glory in the 1998 World Cup and won more than 100 caps for his country so, all in all, a CV that ranks up there amongst the greatest in history.

What I believe Cantona was identifying was the need for balance within all great sides. The complimentary elements of flair and graft. Players who can beat their man and chip the keeper from 25 meters versus players who will track a break 70 meters from goalmouth to goalmouth just to deny their opponents an opportunity, the former drawing the fans adulation, the latter often unobserved in the frenzy.

And so to the present day Water Carriers: Fletcher, O’Shea, Carrick and perhaps the soon to be Hargreaves.

Hidden by the long shadows of Ronaldo and Rooney, the much maligned Fletcher and O’Shea often seem to invite criticism from Man Utd fans for no other reason than they are not Ronaldo and Rooney. While every step over and dribble of the former two is rightly cheered and they are revered as the young Gods of Old Trafford, meanwhile the Water Carriers must feed off scraps.

John O’Shea’s glorious and vital last gasp winner at Anfield only earned him a couple of weeks’ brownie points before some were having a go again. A review of the games these two have played in, this season and last, whether starting or playing a substitutes role, does not suggest that their contribution is as lacking as some fans seem to enjoy suggesting. O’Shea, for example, was part of a makeshift central midfield partnership with Ryan Giggs last season that went on a 10 game winning streak!

The amount paid for the services of Michael Carrick last summer is still the subject of debate and, in some circles, disgust among Utd fans but for my money this was one of the buys of this or any other season.

Carrick provided the final piece of the jigsaw in a midfield whose parts perfectly contrast with and compliment each other, so that the unit is possibly greater than the sum of its parts. For the first time in four seasons United have a first choice midfield four who, when available, pick themselves. Carrick was outstanding in the attacking midfield role against Roma, proving that his talents may well extend beyond that of mere servant to the stars.

Hargreaves is probably the purest Water Carrier of them all and, if bought, will provide a midfield triumvirate with Scholes and Carrick in which any two of the three will be able to get the job done equally effectively. Add to that Hargreaves’ ability to play on the right side of midfield or at right full back and you have O’Shea-esque versatility into the bargain.

Hargreaves has been given the role with England not because he is the most talented individual available but because he carries a hell of a lot of water, inviting Gerrard and Lampard to exploit their considerable talents in the offensive rather than the defensive areas of the pitch.

Now I’m not suggesting for one minute that any of my self-nominated Utd Water Carriers are in the same league as the great Deschamps, far from it. The point is that a team is just that and not a collection of individuals.

The tendency to adulate the great flair players and malign the Water Carriers, for me, misses this point and fails to recognize the wisdom that the Great Man shared with us all those years ago when offering a back handed compliment to the man who provided him and others so many opportunities to shine for Les Blues, the ultimate Water Carrier that was Didier Deschamps.

My three favourite quotes from King Cantona:

  • “When the seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea.”

  • “I didn’t study; I live. You can’t study these things – life teaches them to you. You don’t find them in a book… I’ve read a lot of Socrates on Page 3 of the Sun.”

  • “After his first training session in heaven, George Best, from his favourite right wing, turned the head of God who was filling in at left-back. I would love him to save me a place in his team – George Best that is, not God.”

Comments (12)

  1. “…the much maligned Fletcher and O’Shea often seem to invite criticism from Man Utd fans for no other reason than they are not Ronaldo and Rooney. ”
    I cannot agree with this. Credit has been given where it’s due. Roy Keane was not your dribbler. He was THE Water Carrier, a void that has been felt strongly and acknowledged by many fans. So was Paul Ince and Bryan Robson who were well known for their tackling and combative abilities.
    O’shea and Fletcher are very limited players. Few good performances, but mostly mediocre ones dot their careers having never stepped up their games a great deal.
    Point is fans are not blind to contributions from seemingly invisible players. Credit will come when its due, hell Vidic is not far of the popularity stakes this season. I dare say he’s second to Ronaldo. Rooney has also had his fair share of criticism.
    So a little more research would help! :)

  2. Piker – i can’t agree with you that Keane, Ince and Robbo were Water Carriers. Those 3 were box to box all round midfielders.

    The closest to Deschamps as a water carrier would be Makelele. His positional sense is second to none. All he does is sit in front of the back four, mops up and plays it to the attcking players, exactly what Deschamps did, but certainly not what Keane, Ince or Robson did. Hell, Robson was sometimes our top goal scorer!

    I suggest a little more research on your half matey :)

  3. Oh and as for Le Roi’s quote’s you gotta love them!
    Cantona – boggles the mind on and off the pitch!!!

    Absolute Genius!

  4. Fletcher and O’Shea get criticism coz they are shit. Nothing more, nothing less.

    Also Hargreaves showed how overrated he is against Milan this week. He also reminded us all of why we all thought he was shit before 1 decent performance in the world cup

  5. Piker,Ahmed obviously means that a simple kick with the outside of the foot,to the back space of a forgotten in the attack full-back is something big for Altraford fans.But this is what Ronaldo should do at least in the counter attack and that’s why he is a winger.A very fast one.
    In the other hand,Carrik and O’Shea,who make the tackle only by touching the ball,not making a foul and give the ball when the time is right,get less WOWs and clapping.
    Sometimes Ronaldinho just controls the ball in fashion and the reporters give him God names.Why?Who the fck gave them the ball and created all this space for Ronaldinho or Ronaldo.They can do it by themselves but no more than 4-5 or 6 times in a game.
    Both categories of players do their job with the right way, while the attackers can’t defend and the defenders can’t attack.Nothing is easier than the other but nobody gives a shit for the defenders’ job.
    Am I right Ahmed?

  6. NiKOS – I didn’t write this one, you’ll have to ask the author yourself.

  7. Dan,

    You obviously did not see the match and just guessed from the result. He stopped so many of Milan’s attacks and got the ball to his more attacking players that it was amazing that Bayern did not score. He was all over the defence but the attackers failed badly so much so that he was forced to start attacking for them. For Manchester I doubt that will happen and his game will be more about not leaving the defence alone

  8. SELL RICHARDSON!

  9. Couple of things.
    Firstly, Cantona wasn’t being especially poetic when he used the term water-carrier. That’s simply the term used in France for that type of player — porteur d’eau. English journalists at the time fell over themselves at how witty Cantona was but that wasn’t really the case. Derisive? Maybe a bit. Original? Not at all.
    Secondly, is the Man Utd midfield now better without Paul Scholes?

  10. I mean,am I right BD?

  11. Klenu…I second that!

    and Keano is no water carrier! As Conor said earlier on, Makelele typifies that spirit best.

  12. yeah…