Manchester United - Team Number 16. Carrick
It’s amazing to think Michael Carrick had his detractors at the start of his United career, with some grumblings about his transfer fee - £14m rising to £18.6m with add-ons.
Even after his debut 2006/07 season, in which he carved out a formidable partnership with Paul Scholes as the Reds reclaimed the title, some people predicted he’d slip down the pecking order after the arrival of Owen Hargreaves. But not a bit of it. Carrick has become ever more important to United, maturing into one of English football's most sophisticated and classy passing midfielders.
The first of Carrick's two league titles with United to date was also the first major honour of his professional career, although he did win the FA Youth Cup with West Ham in 1999, scoring twice in the 9-0 final demolition of Coventry City.
West Ham loaned Carrick out to Swindon in 1999/2000 and then Birmingham in 2000/01 when he earned a nomination for the PFA Young Player of the Year, eventually won by Liverpool's Steven Gerrard.
Carrick spent much of the 2002/03 season sidelined with injury. West Ham were relegated at the end of it but rather than join Joe Cole, Fredi Kanoute and Jermain Defoe in an exodus, Carrick stayed for a season in the Championship. However, after losing the 2004 play-off final to Crystal Palace, Carrick decided he couldn't wait another year for a return to the Premier League and moved across London to join Tottenham in a transfer worth £2.75m.
He blossomed into an accomplished midfielder in two seasons at White Hart Lane. However, he only scored two goals in 64 games and it seemed this low strike-rate would continue at United, at least for the first few months.
Encouraged by Sir Alex Ferguson to push forward, Carrick eventually weighed in with six strikes from midfield in 2006/07. His first was a well-taken half-volley against Aston Villa at Old Trafford on 13 January 2007; his second, at home to Reading in the FA Cup, was shortlisted for the club's Goal of the Season award (won by Scholes away to Villa). His other goals included two in the 7-1 rout of Roma.
Carrick may have only scored three goals in 2007/08 but his all-round contribution to the cause could not be questioned as the Reds were crowned Champions of England and Europe. No wonder then that club and player agreed a new four-year deal in May 2008, to keep Carrick at United until June 2012.