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Football: The Mirror FC Interview - MICHAEL CARRICK: LAST MAN STANDING; Carrick still wants to hammer on England's door and win the FA Cup with West Ham's new breed FULHAM v WEST HAM, TODAY, 3PM.

Byline: MARK ISAACS

NO ONE at West Ham has escaped being affected by the trials and tribulations which have ravaged the club over the past 12 months, but at just 22 years old, Michael Carrick has had to suffer more than most.

The England midfielder has been forced to look on with envy as Joe Cole, Glen Johnson, Trevor Sinclair, Frederic Kanoute, David James and Jermain Defoe have all secured big-money moves back into the top flight.

West Ham have been forced to sell their star assets following relegation from the Premiership last season and have transformed the playing staff since the summer.

But new manager Alan Pardew has still managed to steer his side into the fifth round of the FA Cup, where Carrick will have the chance to showcase his talents against Premiership Fulham at Loftus Road today.

Carrick, who was described as the best young talent in the English game just two years ago before injury shattered his dreams of playing in the 2002 World Cup, is one of the few players left from the Hammers' Premiership line-up.

And despite Carrick's frustrations at seeing his close friends leave the club, he is determined to lift spirits with a long Cup run and help West Ham get back in the top flight next season.

Carrick said: "It is frustrating for me when I see the quality of players who have left the club in the last six or seven months.

"I knew players were going to leave when we suffered relegation, but it's weird for me now because the whole club seems to be different. Joe, Glen, Jermain - they're all gone. So are the more senior lads. There are only Christian Dailly, Tomas Repka and myself who played in the Premiership last year and apart from Steve Lomas I have probably got the most appearances for the club.

"That doesn't seem right and it feels odd. I feel more pressure on my shoulders because people now expect me to take responsibility and produce when things are not going so well.

"But if you want to get better and become one of the best players, you have to deal with that. I have got to thrive on it because otherwise you will fade away.

"The manager is imposing his mark on the team. It is Alan Pardew's club now.

"All the changes which have taken place in such a short space of time are bound to affect you, but I have got to try and block it out. I want to get back in the Premier League as soon as possible." As well as promotion, Carrick would also love to fulfil a boyhood dream and win the FA Cup with West Ham.

The Hammers face Fulham today with Carrick knowing his side are just three games away from the reaching the final at the Millennium Stadium.

And the talented midfielder sees no reason why they cannot enjoy success in both the league and cup competitions this season.

Carrick added: "When you get to this stage of the competition everyone starts thinking about reaching the final and it could be our year.

"If we can beat Fulham, we are already in the quarter- finals and then anything can happen. We know this is a big game for us.

"Fulham have got some really good players and have done excellently under Chris Coleman. But they have slipped up in recent weeks and are finding it harder to get results. Without doubt the priority for us has to be promotion, but the FA Cup is certainly not a distraction because I would much rather be playing a London derby than having the weekend off.

"If you are winning games, it only breeds confidence and you cannot wait for the next game to come around.

"It's great to still be in the Cup and also gunning for promotion.

"I always dreamed about winning the FA Cup as a youngster and the final at Wembley was always the biggest day for me in the football season.

"It does not get much bigger if we can win the FA Cup this season a`s it is the best cup competition in the world."

It would certainly be a fitting reward for the Geordie midfielder who has shown that loyalty still exists in the modern game.

CAPTION(S):

LOYAL HAMMER: Michael Carrick has seen more than half of his team-mates leave for the Premiership
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 14, 2004
Words:738
Previous Article:Football: THE KNOWLEDGE.
Next Article:Football: ALAN: WE'LL HIT THE HEADLINES.


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