Michael Carrick's whispering style and lack of goals from midfield can get him placed in the "unrealised potential" bracket. But the silent one in the Manchester United engine room is one of Sir Alex Ferguson's go-to men whenever United make their traditional late-season run at the title.
The 30-year-old Carrick returns to face Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday afternoon, the club to whom Ferguson paid an initial £14m for in 2006. The Wallsend native is as fluid and smooth as ever and his manager says: "He and [Paul] Scholes have a good partnership, and Michael's form for quite a while now has been absolutely superb.
"He always does better in the second half of the season and I know he always disagrees with me on that. But I feel the second half sees him at his best and we're seeing that at the moment. It's pleasing."
Statistics show that Carrick is currently enjoying good form. In a total of 168 Premier League appearances for United his overall pass conversion rate is 85.4 yet this campaign his rate is up to an impressive 90.14.
In play Carrick purrs along, unloading 40-yard passes or laying off the short balls in the midfield chess match with a quietness that is mirrored away from the pitch. "He's not a guy that seeks publicity a lot," Ferguson says. "He's a quiet lad and goes about his life in a similar way to Scholes and [Ryan] Giggs and that doesn't mean to say that he's not recognised by us.
"You get players like that and Denis Irwin was much the same. He wasn't the type to trumpet his achievements and it's quite refreshing in the modern game to have players that can rely on their ability and not by promoting or projecting themselves."
Does he sometimes need a reminder of how good he is? "I think he does. He's a different personality, he's a quiet personality but that can mislead a lot of people into thinking he needs encouraging all the time and that's not the case," Ferguson says.
Carrick's senior career began at West Ham United 14 years ago where Julian Dicks, who had also witnessed Frank Lampard's emergence, saw Carrick coming through alongside Joe Cole, another talented midfielder.
Carrick was the least unheralded of the trio, says Dicks. "He wasn't really the one who would stand out in that group. I don't think he has to prove [his worth] to anybody else he just has to prove it to himself.
"But watching his career over the years, he's developed into a very good player – for me he doesn't score enough goals but he is like a box-to-box midfield player of which there are not many about any more. He can do both jobs, he can do what Scott Parker does, he can sit there and break up the play. But the thing that stands out against the other midfield players is he can pass a ball 50, 60 yards and he can set up attacking play."
The two charges Carrick attracts is that he does not shape enough games for United and his goal return is poor. When he plays United win slightly less – 70% – than when he does not – 73%. And his two league goals this season in an overall count of 14 in his six years at the club is a disappointing number for a performer of his class.
"When you look at Frank Lampard – Frank has gone on to exceptional things and the difference for me is Frank scores bundles of goals . If you've got a midfield player who can score at least 10, 12 goals a season they are worth their weight in gold," Dicks says.
"Michael has to score more goals, he's a got a good shot on him – I think he has the attributes to do that. But he [isn't] at the moment scoring goals."
Carrick is also failing to get into the England team, having not featured for two years, and his 22 caps in the 11 years since his debut is a surprising small number. With England in flux, who takes over as manager may impact on whether Carrick makes the trip to the European Championship in the summer and even if he does it seems unlikely he would be in the starting XI.
"Obviously Scott Parker has made a claim for that place, and you've got Steven Gerrard and still got Frank as well," Dicks says. "There's a lot of good players in that position. I'd certainly take him but I'm not saying I would start him. If he has a good remainder of the season he can push himself into that place."
Carrick starts that drive at Tottenham on Sunday.