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.”