When Sir Alex Ferguson splashed out £18.6million on Michael Carrick in summer 2006, not every Manchester United fan was convinced by the England international.
But 416 appearances, five Premier League titles and one Champions League titles later, the deep-lying midfielder will be remembered as arguably one of the shrewdest investments Ferguson ever made.
Now 34 years of age, however, Carrick’s ten-year Old Trafford career appears to be drawing to a close with the Red Devils yet to extend his contract beyond the end of the season.
But a bigger and more intriguing question than where Carrick will end up this summer is who’ll replace him at the base of United’s midfield.
With that in mind and the summer transfer window looming in, Football Fancast have conjured up a list of FIVE perfect successors for the departing maestro.
Rumour has it Toni Kroos will look to leave Real Madrid this summer and the technically-gifted midfielder would be the perfect replacement for Michael Carrick, sharing or arguably exceeding the quality and intelligence in possession the England international brings to deep midfield.
Furthermore, the 26-year-old is vastly experienced, lifting a Champions League title in 2013 and the World Cup with Germany a year later, and is well acquainted with life at institutionalised clubs, rising through the ranks at Bayern Munich before moving to the Bernabeu two summers ago.
But even if the 64-cap international does look to move on this summer, Los Blancos will command an enormous fee for a player viewed as arguably the best central midfielder in world football.
Adrien Rabiot may be considerably less proven than some of the players on this list but the 21-year-old would fit perfectly into Manchester United’s mantra of investing in prodigious talent.
Indeed, Rabiot is one of the most exciting young midfielders in world football, having represented France almost 50 times at youth level and already amassed 114 appearances for current employers PSG – including 38 outings across all competitions this season.
A lanky, technical, deep-lying midfielder who reads the game well and isn’t afraid to put his foot in, there’s certainly something Carrick-esque about the France U21. But rated as the club’s brightest prospect, the Parisians will be reluctant to part with him this summer.
Once dubbed ‘young Schweinsteiger’ for his tenacity, strength and control of possession, Granit Xhaka certainly isn’t too far away from Michael Carrick on the midfielder spectrum, albeit perhaps a more dynamic and gritty as a consequence of his age.
The 23-year-old is a real terrier and has picked up three red cards already this season, but he’s also blessed with a fantastic passing range and consistency on the ball, averaging the most successful passes per match of any non-Bayern Munich player in the Bundesliga this season.
The Switzerland international’s leadership qualities as Gladbach captain make him an even more appealing candidate to replace Carrick, but Arsenal appear to be leading the chase for his signature at the moment.
Miralem Pjanic is notably more forward-thinking than Michael Carrick, but offers a similar kind of service to the United veteran in possession with a healthy dollop of output on top, notching up ten goals and eleven assists in 31 Serie A appearances for Roma this season.
Expert deliveries and strikes from dead ball situations have been a predominant source but the Bosnian international is equally famed for his technique and creativity in open play – something the current United engine room is in desperate need of.
Now coming to the end of his fifth season at the Stadio Olimpico, the 26-year-old could likely be tempted to leave this summer. However, Roma are reportedly looking to tie Pjanic down to a new long-term contract before the summer transfer window.
In terms of home-grown successors to Michael Carrick, it’s hard to look past Tottenham Hotspur’s Eric Dier, who has been a revelation in the holding role this season after previously plying his trade at full-back and centre-half.
Indeed, there’s a simplicity yet progressiveness to the England international’s game, holding position well, plugging gaps in the Spurs backline and providing physicality in midfield but always looking to move the ball forward.
Dier’s consistency in possession and versatility suggests he’s already a very well-rounded player at the age of 22. But it will probably take an unjustifiable fee to convince Tottenham to sell this summer and having only enjoyed one season of true prominence in his short career, United may deem the coming summer a little too soon for a major investment.