Looking relaxed but determined with just a few days to go until Saturday's UEFA Champions League final against Barcelona, Michael Carrick was certainly 'talking the talk 'ahead of the clash against Lionel Messi and Co.
The Manchester United and England midfielder was eager to stress that the Red Devils had learned lessons from the defeat by the Spanish outfit in Rome two years ago, and he believes that the squad is stronger as a result. In this exclusive interview with FIFA.com, Carrick also discusses the impending retirement of Edwin van der Sar, the confidence instilled in the squad by Sir Alex Ferguson and his admiration for Xavi and Andres Iniesta.
FIFA.com: Michael, how have the Manchester United squad grown since 2009?
Michael Carrick: I think we’ve just gained experience. We’ve had good times and we have had the odd blip. You probably learn more from the negative experiences than you do from the good in some ways. We are a close-knit squad and the spirit is probably as good as it has ever been. We’re all trying to pull together to be successful for each other.
How are you feeling ahead of the match?
We’re anxious to get started. There are obviously a few nerves because it’s a huge occasion and there’s so much to gain, [but] we’re just looking forward to it now.
Why is this the ultimate club game in European football?
We’ve won our league, they’ve won theirs and we have both been successful for the last few years. We have played each other a couple of times in a semi-final and a final, so the consistency of both teams is there and obviously it’s all on the night now.
I’m trying to play it down in my mind and not get too carried away with how big the game is and what it means but obviously we are lucky to be part of such an occasion.
Sir Alex described United as being ‘on the carousel’ the last time you played them. What are you going to do to get off it this time around?
We’ve just got to play to our strengths and try and win the game. We’ve got to respect the strengths that Barcelona have because they are a terrific team, but we’re there for a reason as well. We’ve won the league, so we’re obviously doing something right, and we'll take that into the game. We’re a good match for anyone.
You’re going in as underdogs. Are United comfortable with that?
It doesn’t matter who are favourites, it’s a one-off game and anything can happen. It’s unusual because in most games we are the favourites, but it doesn’t really come into it for us.
United may not have received as much respect as they should have done for their achievements. Do the players feel that the media haven’t given you enough credit?
As players, that’s not what we’re about. We’re about winning things. We’re not feeling sorry for ourselves because of that. Winning is winning, whatever way it comes.
As an Englishman playing in a Champions League final at Wembley, what does that mean to you?
It’s so special. I’m trying to play it down in my mind, and not get too carried away with how big the game is and what it means, but obviously we are lucky to be part of such an occasion.
It’s Edwin Van der Sar’s last game on Saturday. Did you want him to stay on for another season?
When we won the league last Saturday all the boys were singing ‘one more year’, but it was more just a bit of fun really. Edwin’s big enough to make his own decision. He feels it’s the right time and who’s to argue? Hopefully we can send him off with another good memory.
All training last week was geared towards Barcelona and all our thoughts have been the same, so there’s an extra focus and concentration and excitement.
Obviously being excited ahead of the game, do you approach training differently?
No. In some ways it’s like any other week. There’s a bit more tactical work this week than we’re used to but in terms of thinking about not getting injured, you just put that to the back of your mind and focus on the job and just get ready for the weekend.
Do you think that places are still up for grabs?
Yes, every day here in training is a test. You’ve got to be on your game, because the standard is so high and the squad is so strong and the amount of options the manager has is there for all to see. It’s the manager’s decision and I wouldn’t like to have to make it.
Has this been more of a squad effort than in 2009?
I think that’s just the way it is now with the amount of games we play and the squad we have now, the players are chomping at the bit to get into it. The lads all buy into the decisions of the manager. If he leaves you out for a game or two, then you come back because you can see the bigger picture, which is winning leagues and competing for Champions Leagues.
As a midfielder yourself, what do you think of Xavi and Iniesta when you watch them?
They’re top players. I watch and enjoy them just as much as anybody else when I’m watching them on the TV, but when you’re up against them you have a job. You respect them for who they are and how good they are, but at the same time they’re the opposition.
Having a manager that has seen it and done it in football, how much confidence does that give you?
It’s massive for somebody who has achieved so much in the game to believe in you as a player. It gives you huge belief and confidence and it’s good to have him behind you, giving advice and helping you along the way.
Do you see a difference in him on weeks like this?
I think there is a difference in everyone. The focus changed for us since Blackburn, and the focus has solely been on this game. All training last week was geared towards Barcelona and all our thoughts have been the same, so there’s an extra focus and concentration and excitement.
Many fans will be expecting an open game of football but as a player, what do you think the game will be like?
It’s so hard to tell. When you look at the last final, we were on top for the first ten minutes looking to score and then they scored and you just can’t predict how it’s going to be. The last final really wasn’t as bad as people made out. There were times in the game where we were right in it. It wasn’t a total disaster, but there are things that we want to change and things that we will change.