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21/01/2012 08:28, Report by Steve Bartram
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Centre of excellence

There are different ways to make your mark at Manchester United.

While renowned midfield battlers Bryan Robson, Pat Crerand and Roy Keane carved their legends with axes, rather than switchblades, Michael Carrick is carefully etching himself into indispensability for Sir Alex Ferguson's latest team.

The softly-spoken North-Easterner is a midfielder for the modern game. Nick possession, keep possession. Simple, but devastating to those who are chasing the ball. The gradual filtration of old school enforcers means top class midfields are no longer patrolled with menace. Rather, they are courtyards for craft, as the top exponents merge athleticism, dexterity and vision. Few blend those virtues as expertly as United’s number 16.

Addressing the nation’s media before Christmas, Sir Alex declared: "Michael has been one of our best players. He's been instrumental in what's happening to the team at the moment. He's grabbed the nettle - there's no question about that.

"I think it's time Michael became the pivotal player of our team. We've always known he's got that in him. He's a laidback character - quiet, unassuming - but in different periods during his time here he's shown his quality. Now is the time for him to start a long period of dominating the centre of midfield.”

Finally free of an Achilles injury which disrupted over a year of his career, Carrick’s importance at Old Trafford is undisputable in a campaign where he has kept the cogs moving despite a spate of long-term injuries in central areas. Anderson, Tom Cleverley and Darren Fletcher have all missed or continue to miss sizeable portions of the season, while Paul Scholes’ retirement U-turn has only just given Sir Alex an extra weapon at his disposal.

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