Patrice Evra has worn the captain's armband for Manchester United since Nemanja Vidic suffered a season-ending injury against FC Basel in December, but who will be the club's captain after they are gone?
It is widely assumed Vidic will reclaim his armband when he returns from injury. Likewise, it seems obvious Evra will continue to deputize when Vidic is unavailable.
However, with both players now in their 30s, it is worth considering who will be the future captain of United.
That is not to say they should be replaced now.
Rather, this is simply speculation about who in the current squad can step up and receive the armband when the veterans call it quits.
Ideally, you want every player in the squad to be a leader, but only one can wear the armband.
These six players all have the characteristics necessary to be captain of Manchester United.
Phil Jones has only been at Old Trafford for half a season, but he is already viewed by many as the future captain of Manchester United and England.
United legend Gary Neville tipped Jones to be the future captain of the club shortly after the 19-year-old defender completed his £16 million move from Blackburn.
Jones has since shown why he is considered an excellent candidate to be given the armband at Old Trafford. Along with being an incredibly gifted young talent, Jones has the mentality to be a fantastic leader.
In fact, United first targeted him based on that aspect of his game. During Blackburn's 7-1 mauling at Old Trafford, Sir Alex Ferguson identified Jones as a key transfer target because he continued to urge on his teammates even after United's fifth goal.
This never-say-die attitude is necessary for a United captain. Jones is a high-energy player who would rather exhaust himself than lose. Whenever he is involved, he is always urging his teammates forward. That is an example that you want the captain to set. In that regard he is reminiscent of Roy Keane.
Jones is probably a few years off from being considered as a captain, but it is hard to imagine he isn't destined to wear the armband for United.
Wayne Rooney is one of the fan favorites to be the next captain of Manchester United, and his intensity on the pitch would serve him well in such a role.
It is impossible to ignore the massive impact Rooney has on the team. When he is in the team, United often win. When Rooney is unable to play, the team seems to struggle slightly without his influence.
With so much of the team centered around Rooney, it makes sense for him to be the captain.
Rooney displays a clear passion for the game. He is always looking to get involved all over the pitch. One moment he'll be back covering as a left-back—the next he is at the other end of the pitch scoring a goal. He has an attitude while playing that you want the rest of the team to emulate, and he's not one to shy away from telling players when they need to do better.
Anger issues plagued Rooney early in his career, but in recent seasons he has shown great maturity. While this change is good for keeping him out of trouble, there are also drawbacks.
Sometimes he seems almost too mellow on the pitch, and you want to see him show the same fire he once did.
Although it earned him a suspension, the passion Rooney showed celebrating his hat trick at West Ham last season is something he needs to demonstrate more. He can show that same level of intensity without swearing into cameras and getting into trouble.
There also remains concern over Rooney's commitment to the club after he attempted to force a transfer in October 2010, and indeed this is something that should be considered. His actions showed disrespect for the club, and a captain should always represent the club in a positive manner.
However, everyone deserves a second chance.
Rooney has demonstrated in his time at Old Trafford that he has the characteristics necessary for a captain, and should at least be considered when it comes time for the armband to be passed on.
Darren Fletcher is already the captain of Scotland, and if he can make a full return to Manchester United he would make an excellent captain for his club as well.
Ulcerative colitis has plagued Fletcher for the past two seasons, but his clear determination to fight back is the mark of a leader.
Fletcher was a key player at Old Trafford before a mysterious illness—later announced to be ulcerative colitis—kept him from playing in the second half of last season. He made his return for United this season, but then announced in December that he was taking an extended leave to deal with his health issues.
Such is his impact on the squad that many supporters believe the 2009 Champions League final against Barcelona would have ended differently if Fletcher had not been wrongly suspended in the semifinals.
His work ethic in midfield is fantastic. His tireless performances saw him become the engine in our midfield, driving us forward and setting the pace for the whole team.
Having played for United since he was a teenage, Fletcher knows what it means to play for United. It was an integral part of his life growing up. He understands the importance of the club, and that is always a bonus when choosing a captain. The same could be said for former captain Gary Neville.
In January 2012, Fletcher sat in the away section with United fans during the club's FA Cup tie with Manchester City. It is brilliant to see a player continuing support the club even though he cannot be involved, and it speaks loads of his character to get involved with the fans.
That is the type of person you want as the leader of your club.
It is often hard for a player to return to his best form after such a lengthy time away from the game, but if Fletcher can overcome any setbacks and return to the brilliance he has shown, then he must be considered for the captain's armband.
Jonny Evans may seem an odd choice to be the future captain of Manchester United, but he has the qualities necessary to lead the club.
The Northern Ireland international suffered from poor form in the 2010/11 campaign, but he worked hard to prove his quality this season. This desire to battle back is important for a player to wear the captain's armband at United.
His no-nonsense approach to defending would be an excellent trait in a leadership role, just as it has been for Nemanja Vidic. Going into a tackle and winning the ball with authority can motivate the players around you, and Evans is certainly capable of doing that.
Evans was a member of United's academy and rose through the ranks to break into the first team. He has been with the club since he was a child, and he knows what it means to wear the famous red shirt. That characteristic should not be underestimated.
Along with possessing the right mentality, Evans is actually a very good defender. Some supporters have targeted Evans for abuse because of his poor performances last season, but they are quick to forget all the potential he showed in the two seasons prior.
This season, he rediscovered his form and has proven that he has the quality to play at United. With Vidic sidelined until next season, Evans has taken his place in the back four. In doing do, he has arguably been United's best and most consistent defender this season.
Evans has had some problems in the past, but he's overcome them to show why he could be the next captain of United.
Chris Smalling is unlike the other candidates, but he has unique qualities that would still make him a suitable leader at Manchester United.
Simply put, Smalling is the most naturally gifted defender of the three young center-backs at the club. His positioning is excellent, he is exceptionally confident for his age and he always exudes a great composure under pressure.
It is with good reason he has received such praise since his move to Old Trafford, even drawing comparisons with Rio Ferdinand.
His composure in defense could make him an interesting choice for captain. Sometimes you need a player that can calm everyone down in hostile situations. That is something Smalling could offer to the team. You do not necessarily need a captain to shout at the players, but rather someone who simply can motivate with his own sense of confidence.
Smalling is already arguably the best defender in the squad behind Nemanja Vidic, and at just 22 years old it is exciting to think how good he could be once he reaches his peak years. He could set the example in the heart of defense while also providing a sense of calm authority to the team.
He will be one of the most heavily involved players at the club in the coming seasons and may well spend the next decade at Old Trafford. It would not be surprising if he starts next season as one of the first-choice center-backs, thus offering a long-term option who would be ever present in the starting XI.
Smalling has demonstrated exceptional leadership qualities at such a young age, and as he continues to develop and mature he should have a good chance at one day wearing the armband for United.
Rafael's enthusiasm on the pitch and tireless performances for the club are traits that would make him an excellent Manchester United captain.
Few players have the same energy as Rafael. Whenever he is on the pitch, he never stops working for the team. He is constantly running all over the pitch, and is never satisfied unless he has the ball. One minute he'll be pushing forward in attack, the next he's hustling back to defend.
On more than one occasion Rafael has put his body on the line to win back possession for his team.
That is exactly the type of example you want your captain to set for the team—someone who values the team over themselves.
Temper and immaturity work against Rafael's chances, but both aspects of his mentality will improve with age. The Brazilian has been involved with the first team for so long that it's easy to forget he's only 21 years old.
Rafael has already shown improvement this season. The reckless tackles have diminished and his positioning and composure have shown signs of improvement.
In a few seasons Rafael will definitely be a player to consider as a candidate to inherit the captain's armband.