When the curtain finally comes down on this current ‘golden generation’ of Englishmen, there is one individual whose name may pass under the radar somewhat, but whose contribution is equal to any of his peers. Jamie Carragher, the Liverpool centre back, who has announced that he is to retire from football at the end of this season.
Carragher’s announcement was a timely reminder that he is still playing. That is of course as it is quite easy to forget, when you have a down to earth, media shy, genuine and loyal character who loses his first team place, as Carragher has at Liverpool. Not for him the kind of sulking that most of his generation of English stars would probably have indulged in.
The Chelsea contingent of John Terry, Ashley Cole and even Frank Lampard have embarrassed themselves publicly over the years, as have Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand and Carragher’s Liverpool club mate Steven Gerrard. Carragher belongs to that other half of this generation, along with Paul Scholes, Gary Neville and David Beckham, genuine stars and legends of English football, deserving of the plaudits that will come their way when they pack in the sport. Like Scholes and Beckham, he has not made the back pages of the newspapers for the wrong reasons, he has not behaved like a t*t on the field of the play either.
Work ethic, a never say die attitude, humility, decency, and in age where the phrase “he’s not that sort of player” is trotted out repeatedly to describe footballers who are actually precisely ‘that sort of player’, Carragher is one of the genuine ones who is not out to hurt an opponent. But yet he still maintains that wonderful English spirit and whole hearted determination, physicality and attitude. Carragher epitomises the good side of English football perhaps better than anyone.
And few players have the wit, less the nerve, to turn the tables on a journalist the way Carragher did on Sky Sports’ Andy Burton after last year’s Carling Cup final win over Cardiff. Quizzed on whether he was about to say farewell to Liverpool and call time on his career because he was not in the first team, Carragher simply reminded Burton that after his role in mocking Sian Massey for daring to be a female lines-person, that he was lucky to be in his job. Rarely does a footballer put a journalist in his place whilst behaving with such dignity and showing such wit.
This is a player who has turned from childhood Everton fan into a Liverpool legend, no mean feat in itself. His greatest moment was undoubtedly his heroics at the back in the Champions League final in Istanbul in 2005, when he marshalled Liverpool to victory over AC Milan in one of the greatest fightbacks in football history. Gerrard got most of the credit for inspiring the fight back, but Carragher’s role cannot be ignored. Maybe he has never been the most technically proficient of players, and as my Liverpool supporting brother has often noted, he has an irritating habit of launching aimless long punts down the field of play without any real consideration of where they are going to end up. And who can forget those two own goals in a home defeat to Manchester United? But Carragher is forgiveable. There is something endearing in his whole hearted, genuine and spirited manner, quite opposed to that of another 'warrior' style English defender, John Terry. The fact Terry, like Cole et al, receive such glowing plaudits for their performances is a marker for how low our collective footballing morality has stooped, that class, loyalty and decency are meaningless concepts today.
Carragher is a timely reminder that there are some who do possess such characteristics still playing the game. And it is interesting to contrast him with Terry. Think of Terry, putting his knee into the back of Alexis Sanchez as the Champions League semi final was getting away from Chelsea against Barcelona last year, a cowardly act which could easily have cost his team their ultimate victory in that tournament were it not for the genuine heroics of Lampard, Ramires and Didier Drogba most of all. Then think of Carragher, leading Liverpool’s defence through ties with Juventus and Chelsea to that Champions League final against AC Milan, where he was so heroic in the most glorious of victories. Sure, Carragher retired from representing his country at a young age, but who can blame him? England under Steve McClaren were absolutely hopeless, and Carragher was right to judge it as a waste of his time, just as Scholes had been under Sven Goran Eriksson.
If ever the phrase ‘captain, leader, legend’ truly meant anything, it was meant to apply to Carragher, the best English central defender of his generation.