After playing the role of the understated member of Liverpool’s back four for what seems like an eternity, it was typical of Jamie Carragher that announcement of his retirement came via a short statement issued on his club’s official website that spoke of his wish to exempt the culmination of Liverpool’s season from doubts about his future.
He thanked the support he has received over the sixteen years he has spent at Anfield, mentioned what a great pleasure it was to play for Liverpool and how he would be committed for four further months before leaving it there. “I won’t be making any further comment from now until the end of the season” read the final paragraph.
Typically of Carragher, he will then just get on with it, just like he did in the famous Champions League final of 2005 when he cut the figure of an immovable rock at the back in extra-time despite suffering from a heavy bout of cramp. Those closing stages against AC Milan in Istanbul were perhaps his Liverpool career in microcosm, drawing on all the passion and desire that he has exhumed in each one of his 723 appearances for Liverpool so far, a tally that puts him second to only Ian Callaghan in the list of Anfield devotees.
What is slightly surprising about Carragher’s announcement is the timing, occurring not long after return to the Liverpool first team in which he has played 24 times this season, playing a vital role in draws at Arsenal and Manchester City that have put the Merseyside club club in contention for a return to the Champions League.
He would probably remain as cover provided Brendan Rodgers’s first choice pairing of Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel are both fit, but the recent debacle of FA Cup defeat at Oldham, in which Carragher watched on from the bench alongside fellow elder statesmen Steven Gerrard, showed he still has a lot to offer as a reserve option, as well as a galvanising force in the dressing room.
Rodgers however is trying to usher in a new dawn at Anfield and by looking at Vegard Forren in January, the 24 year old Norwegian central defender now at Southampton, it gave a clear indication as any to the youthful direction in which Rodgers is planning to take the club.
Carragher, at the ripe old age of 35, is wise enough to realise that the Northern Irish manager’s long-term plans do not contain him, and has saw fit to drop out now before he becomes a cumbersome side-act to a club he has never failed to serve with consummate professionalism.
It has been an extremely long journey for the boyhood Evertonian since he was handed his debut against Middlesborough by Roy Evans in 1997 as a highly rated young centre-half. Gerard Houllier moved him to right back following the treble of 2001 and Carragher’s formed suffered greatly.
Fans began to get on his back, even the player himself was aware of the supporter’s derision “they wanted an attacking full-back, they thought they don’t need Carra no more” he said.
Then Rafael Benitez took over in 2004 and proved that opinion so emphatically wrong, installing Carragher as the defensive cornerstone of a side that dramatically won the Champions League in 2005, again reached the final in 2007 and finished closer to the Premier League title as they have ever done in 2009. Between those years under the stewardship of Benitez, it would not be hyperbole to argue Carragher was in the company of the very best centre-backs in the world.
It was in 2007 where Carragher decided to retire from international football citing a frustration with managers constantly refusing him to play him at centre-back. Perhaps it was gross misfortune that Carragher had to compete with the finest generation of centre-half England have arguably ever witnessed in Rio Ferdinand, Ledley King and John Terry all regarded ahead of him in the pecking order, but that is not to take anything away from the fierce competitor who got by on an intelligent footballing brain (that heavily excused his lack of pace) and his powerful influence on his team-mates.
It was this evergreen quality that proved too much for Fabio Capello to ignore as he saw the Liverpool centre-back worthy of one final call-up to the England squad for the World Cup of South Africa in 2010 as a 32 year old who had been away from the national team for three years.
It is that superb centre-back and loyal servant that Carragher will eventually bow out as, departing at the end of the season to an absence that one may predict will not be too long away from a game he remains fanatical about. His renowned passion and understanding of the sport will bode him well for a future that looks likely to involve coaching, given his natural leadership qualities, and eventually management.
He may even be an attractive proposition for punditry and media work given the calculated sense has often spoken when interviewed, but regardless of the future for a player that will be immortalised in Liverpool’s proud history, it has been a past applicable to the most imperious of model professionals.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow him on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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