When the full-time whistle goes at Anfield on 19 May, 2013 after Liverpool’s final Premier League match against Queens Park Rangers, I suspect the customary end of season deflation will carry a little extra significance.
For those of you who don’t know – or have just merely forgotten – this will mark Jamie Carragher’s last game in a Liverpool shirt – and indeed, football as a whole.
After well over 700 appearances, a Champions League title, three League Cups, two FA Cups, one UEFA Cup, two European Super Cups, two Community Shields and a slightly underwhelming five goals for the club (I’m privileged to say I was in attendance for his back post poach against Fulham), Jamie Carragher is retiring.
What makes this moment all the more poignant is the stark realisation that this retirement signals the end of an era at Anfield. For as long as I can remember (and, at almost 24, I consider myself a bit of an old bastard now), the one constant in Liverpool’s team selection has been Jamie Carragher. He’s just always been there. It’s become almost a given that “Carra”, as he’s affectionately known, is a part of the Liverpool furniture – and a mighty fine one at that.
Players, managers, coaches and even owners have come and gone. But when a player like Carragher sticks around for the best part of 17 years, it’s hard not get attached – especially when you possess the type of character and attitude that he does.
This is a guy who leads from the front. Steven Gerrard might have had the armband, but you always felt it was Carragher who was the real leader behind many a Liverpool success.
That’s no disrespect to Gerrard, who has been an inspiration for others with his desire and unbelievable quality (and is arguably Liverpool’s greatest ever player), but Carragher is the player who organises, orchestrates and dictates with his incessant communication (although perhaps ‘shouting’ would be a more appropriate phrase) on the pitch.
I know for sure that I’d feel a whole lot safer playing alongside Carra than without – even if I’d certainly hate to be on the wrong side of a trademark Carragher bollocking, as I’m sure Alvaro Arbeloa can testify to!
Upon his impending retirement, many will be quick to laud Carragher for his pride, commitment, determination and uncompromising defending. Yet, I think it would only be right and proper to point out that, at his peak, the 35-year-old was amongst the best central defenders in Europe – I wholeheartedly believe that. A player criminally under-utilised by a succession of England managers and one that isn’t appreciated in the same bracket as fellow centre-backs John Terry and Rio Ferdinand by many outside of Merseyside.
The pace of the game (which was never Carra’s strong point) may have caught up with him in the last couple of years, but I haven’t seen too many better players at reading, anticipating and cutting out danger quite like Carragher – even against some of the world’s most talented performers.
Carragher was in his element during the majority of Rafa Benitez’s Anfield tenure from 2004 to 2010 and helped keep the likes of Juventus, Chelsea, Barcelona, Arsenal, Inter Milan and Real Madrid at bay with typical assurance and consummate ease.
Of course, Carragher’s finest and most distinguished contribution to the Liverpool cause came on May 25, 2005 in Istanbul against AC Milan (need I tell you?) in can what can only be described as a simply monumental display of battle-hardened defending. This was the pinnacle of the club game and Carragher didn’t look out of place. Far from it, he thrived under the spotlight and the intensity of competition. The boy from Bootle done good.
While his performance in the Champions League Final was something to behold, equally, his blocks, last-ditch tackles and clearances against Chelsea across two epic Semi Final encounters deserve as much, if not more, adulation.
Go ahead, go and check the DVDs. Or, if it’s easier, YouTube. That was some titanic defending. Benitez received much credit for masterminding Liverpool’s against-all-odds triumph that year but it wouldn’t have been remotely possible without Carragher’s presence in the heart of defence alongside Sami Hyypia.
While Carragher’s playing ability may have diminished in the latter part of his career, his influence and will-to-win has remained infectious.
I couldn’t help but marvel at a recent training video Liverpool put up on their website. In the video, Carragher is seen driving his team mates on with unremitting bouts of encouragement and direction (albeit in what is essentially a friendly five-a-side style game), scoring from a powerful free-kick (ok, it was only training) and screaming for joy as his side manage to overcome their Liverpool counterparts. It’s an inspirational piece of footage – and that’s only from watching it. Could you imagine working alongside this guy every day? The effect such practices can have on the club’s young players (and even senior ones) is indispensable.
And that’s what Liverpool will miss. Not only a fantastic playing servant but a thoroughly unmatchable professional and role model.
At the time of writing, there have been rumours that Carragher is re-thinking his decision to quit (I’ll be bloody seething if he does change his mind – took me ages this!). But that’s what they remain, rumours. The likelihood is that time is running out for Carragher (EDIT: Ok, he’s definitely retiring). The extraordinary sum of appearances in a Red shirt – second only to Ian Callaghan – will soon come to an end.
It’s the end of an era. One that Liverpool fans – certainly of my generation – will remember with great fondness. The holy grail league championship title never quite materialised but it’s been an amazing journey nonetheless with moments that will live forever in the memory. Memories that would never have been possible without Liverpool’s stalwart number 23.
Thank you for everything, Jamie. It’s been boss.
(Oh, by the way, have a look at this, it’s brilliant).