WEST HAM midfielder Michael Carrick has been rewarded for his incredible progress this season by being awarded a new, improved contract that will keep him at Upton Park until 2005. Opta took a look at the 19-year-old's performances, and feel that he could well be a fixture for club and country for many years to come.

Before making his breakthrough into the Hammers first team last term, Carrick was largely unheard of in The Premiership. This is undoubtedly due to the furore surrounding youth team colleague Joe Cole, who has been the most talked about young English player for several years now. Carrick has often stated that this anonymity has helped him deal with the pressures of The Premiership, but despite his low-key profile off the pitch, Carrick is certainly a powerful figure when he steps out onto the field of play.

So far this season, Carrick has gone in for 132 tackles, which is more than any other Englishman has managed and the second-highest total in the league behind Leeds' Olivier Dacourt.

However, that is not to say that Carrick is predominately a defence-minded player. The majority of the Hammers' attacks flow through him, and as a consequence, he has already made 841 successful passes this season - the highest total at the club.

Carrick has also managed to get on the scoresheet once this season, a fantastic strike from distance against Aston Villa in December. However, with fellow England internationals Cole and Frank Lampard making up the West Ham midfield, Carrick is often lumbered with the defensive duties while his attack-minded colleagues roam forward.

Carrick's unquestionable work ethic and tough-tackling skills saw him called up to the full England squad by Sven Goran Eriksson back in February, although he was denied a first cap in the game against Spain by a late injury. There should however, be plenty of opportunities for the young Hammer to make an impact at international level in the future, as Eriksson has gone on record to state his admiration for the 19-year-old.

The England manager is clearly not Carrick's only admirer. He has attracted plenty of interest from across the country with his consistent performances, and was reportedly the subject of a £10 million move by Newcastle earlier in the 2000-01 campaign. But with his immediate future now committed to West Ham, the 19-year-old midfielder can concentrate on helping himself and the club develop over the next few years.

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