Michael Carrick has been a pivotal cog in the Manchester United machine since joining from Tottenham Hotspur in 2006.
The current club captain is a lynchpin of the Reds' engine room, dictating play with his considered, refined style.
Although now at the stage of his career where his involvement must be carefully regulated to ensure we get the best from the instrumental midfielder, Carrick still played a key role throughout the 2016/17 season and was rewarded at the end of the campaign with a richly deserved testimonial match at Old Trafford. The current longest-serving United player completed his collection of medals for the club by helping the club to win the FA Cup in 2015/16.
Understated, and often underrated, it was only from 2012/13 when Carrick truly gained wider acclaim for his performances, earning a spot in the PFA Premier League Team of the Season and being voted Players' Player of the Year by his United team-mates.
His impact on the Reds' squad was evident long before the 20th title-winning campaign, though. During his debut campaign of 2006/07, he carved out a formidable partnership with Paul Scholes and began to mature into one of English football's most sophisticated and classy passing midfielders, quickly bagging the maiden honour of his professional career with the Premier League title.
A calming influence and the master of the interception, he also starred as the Reds conquered England and Europe in 2007/08, beating Chelsea to both the Premier League and Champions League before penning a new, four-year contract extension.
After missing nine games early in the 2008/09 season with an ankle injury, the Geordie returned to establish himself as the focal point of United's midfield, finishing with 43 appearances in all competitions and scoring a crucial May winner at Wigan during the title run-in.
His fourth campaign with United proved more difficult, not least when an injury crisis at the club forced him to take up an emergency role in the back four. However, he responded in style, first at West Ham where the Reds won 4-0 and then away to Wolfsburg where he proved his versatility.
The midfielder agreed to extend his stay at Old Trafford again at the beginning of March 2011, when he signed a new three-year deal to keep him at the club until the end of the 2013/14 campaign.
Though he failed to score in 2010/11, the first barren season of his United career, he was particularly effective after Christmas in a more defensive midfield role, as he helped the Reds reclaim the title. This form further improved in 2011/12 as Carrick once again asserted his authority in the centre of the park, and though his shielding work proved integral to United's approach, a late-season collapse meant Manchester City nabbed the title in the dying seconds of the campaign.
Carrick's 2012/13 campaign was probably his finest in a red shirt as, alongside Robin van Persie, United's no.16 was the crux of the club's 20th league triumph. An assured and experienced presence, Carrick's contribution only sporadically extended to goalscoring with occasionally spectacular results – but in his primary role of screening the defence, intercepting passes and probing against well-drilled opposing ranks, Carrick once again proved himself as one of the modern game's leading exponents.
Come the end of yet another title-winning campaign, the midfielder was acknowledged by his peers when he scooped the Players' Player of the Year award at a lavish post-season ceremony. It was just reward for the Newcastle-born player, who had made a habit throughout his Reds career of being an understated, yet crucial presence. Finally, the appreciation for his efforts was being placed on record by both his team-mates and the fans.
The following campaign of 2013/14 was a tough one for both the player and club. With the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson after 26 years in the Old Trafford hot-seat, David Moyes was the man now in charge of the nation's most successful side and, as one of the club's most consistent performers over previous seasons, it was unsurprising to see Carrick as a regular in Moyes' starting XI.
However, he struggled to recapture the form of the previous season as the Reds started the campaign in sluggish fashion. An Achilles injury, picked up in November, didn't help Carrick's cause and, though he was back in the starting line-up by the festive period, he was far from his best. Thankfully, his form improved as the season went on but Michael couldn't prevent a trophy-less end to the season.
The 2014/15 campaign was another that served to underline Carrick's importance to the United midfield. Having been out of action until 8 November following an ankle injury, the Englishman produced an excellent display at the heart of a three-man defence in the 3-0 win over Liverpool, before reminding fans of his class upon his return to midfield. United won 12 and lost just one of the 16 games he started – the 1-0 reverse to Southampton.
Further injury setbacks saw Carrick sidelined again, though his return to fitness inspired the Reds’ best run of the season, as Louis van Gaal's side saw off the midfielder's former club Spurs in March, before wins over Liverpool and Manchester City. Though a heavy knock in the derby-day win would end Carrick's season prematurely, his significance to the side was further highlighted, as United went on to suffer three straight defeats. In March 2015, the midfielder extended his current deal with the club for a further year.
He started four of the first six fixtures in 2015/16 and the Reds won all four of those games, against Tottenham, Aston Villa and two against Club Brugge, as Michael continued to show why he remained such an important figure in central midfield, even in light of the arrival of summer signings Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Carrick would, however, have to wait until March for his first FA Cup appearance of the campaign, when he started in the 1-1 quarter-final tie with West Ham United at Old Trafford. He would be involved in the subsequent replay and then all the way to the final as the Reds triumphed. Further good news followed in June 2016, when it was announced that Carrick had signed a new one-year contract and he quickly became a key member of Jose Mourinho's team.
Carrick scored his only goal of the 2016/17 season in the 3-1 win over Northampton Town in the third round of the EFL Cup before going on to add the trophy to his glittering collection, helping the Reds to secure the EFL Cup after coming on at half-time during the 3-2 win over Southampton in the final at Wembley. At the end of the season, Carrick was honoured by the club for 11 years of stellar service with a hugely deserved testimonial match, contested by a team representing United's 2008 Champions League winning side and a team of all-stars selected by Michael himself, with Sir Alex Ferguson and Harry Redknapp the two managers. Carrick scored himself with a stunning 25-yard strike in a 2-2 draw at Old Trafford as the money raised was distributed to Carrick's chosen charities through the newly created Michael Carrick Foundation.
After signing a new one-year deal in May 2017, midfielder was chosen by Jose Mourinho to be the new club captain in the summer following Wayne Rooney's departure and said: "It feels great and it is such a huge honour to captain such a great club." Although he is no longer a regular pick in midfield, his experience and presence in the dressing room remains pivotal as the Reds chase more glory in 2017/18.