By David Lynch
There is a short section of Jamie Carragher’s autobiography where the Bootle-born defender’s honesty perhaps gets the better of him. It is, unsurprisingly, the most revealing part of an interesting tale, an insight into the man behind a one-club legend.
It describes his thoughts in the immediate aftermath of having missed a penalty for England against Portugal in 2006 – an event which would end the Three Lions’ participation in that year’s World Cup – which simply amounted to: “At least it wasn’t Liverpool”.
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Of course, given the above quote, it is unlikely that Carragher will attract as many glowing tributes from those who do not call Merseyside home. But, in truth, he is unlikely to care. He has been a Liverpool fan living the dream throughout his 17-year career at Anfield, his only concern living up to the expectations of those on the Kop that he might call his peers.
This sense of carrying a community was never clearer than in the dying minutes of Liverpool’s 2005 Champions League victory over Milan – the centre-back’s defining moment in a red shirt. A clearly cramp-stricken Carragher stretched to clear the ball with almost comic frequency given his condition as the Italians pushed for a late winner, that trademark telescopic leg ensuring the Reds’ backline and the club’s trophy hopes would not be pierced ahead of a famous win on penalties.
Such moments of defiance were not confined to that magical night at Istanbul, either, with Carragher ending his career having earned winner’s medals from two FA Cups, three League Cups, two Super Cups and a Uefa Cup to sit proudly next to Champions League honours.
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At his peak, the Liverpool academy graduate was amongst Europe’s finest organisers, a relentless perfectionist in the pursuit of clean sheets. As the Reds plundered victories at stadiums such as the Santiago Bernabeu, Camp Nou and Old Trafford over the years, Carragher was more than doing his part in keeping some of the biggest talents in world football quiet.
That his high-pitched north-Liverpudlian shriek could still be heard above the sounds of battle as these famous coliseums were ransacked is what arguably made it all the sweeter for the travelling supporters who wished they too could be out there.
Over recent years, the club’s No.23 has been used more sparingly given his advancing years if not declining quality. It is no coincidence that the Reds’ performances as a whole have declined over that period, or that the current team have appeared to be a much more cohesive unit during Carragher's brief reintroduction for the past two games against Arsenal and Manchester City.
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The only question remaining for those who have followed his development from self-confessed “scally” to veteran defender is who takes up the mantle. With Steven Gerrard reaching a similarly dreaded juncture in his career, what Brendan Rodgers recently termed the club’s “Scouse heartbeat” appears doomed.
The path from the youth teams to senior level is notoriously more difficult to walk than in the past and, whilst the likes of Jack Robinson, Conor Coady and Adam Morgan are certainly keen enough to do so, whether they can bridge the gap in order to feature regularly is uncertain.
But the importance of at least one of these prospects emulating Carragher cannot be underestimated by Liverpool. He is a player for whom identity, just as much as quality, ensured his career was a trophy-laden success.
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