Michael Carrick is standing in a narrow alley, behind the main stand at Upton Park in east London.
His return to the ground where he was given his big break as a professional footballer, where he first showed glimpses of the form and talent that would later lead him, via an impressive spell at Tottenham Hotspur, to Manchester United has been a happy one.
The Reds have won 2-0, he’s caught up with some old friends and Wayne Rooney has scored the sort of goal they’ll still be talking about in these parts long after West Ham have upped sticks and taken possession of the keys to their new home, four miles down the road.
Now, on his short journey from the stadium door to the team coach parked in the adjacent car park, Carrick is taking time out to speak to three journalists - this reporter included - and appears to be enjoying talking about the match. And then we go and spoil it all by saying something stupid like “Liverpool”.
At this point, Michael Carrick’s face is proof that wealth and fame do not make everything okay. The pallor fades, the eyes narrow and the cheeks puff out as the 32-year-old exhales heavily.
“It was a bad day against Liverpool,” he says of the 3-0 defeat in the Reds’ last league outing at Old Trafford. “We suffered just as much as the fans. It’s horrible after a game like that. We’re well aware of what those games mean to everyone and, believe me, it means the same to the players.
“The dressing room was, well… as you’d expect, really. We were very disappointed and frustrated. You don’t watch the television or leave the house for a couple of days if you can help it. You suffer from those results just like everybody else.”
On paper, these are just words and cynics will argue he’s merely saying what the fans want to hear. In person, however, you can tell he’s genuine. Michael Carrick plays life as he plays football: he doesn’t often give much away. But here in this wind-whipped east London alley, there’s no mistaking his feelings. Nor is there any question that he’s even contemplating going through the same experience on Tuesday night when Manchester City come to