Retiring defender faces an emotional day against QPR but he is looking forward to experiencing life outside football
Quitting while ahead is en vogue but Jamie Carragher has never been one for fashion. The decision to join the Premier League’s passing-out parade after 16 years, 11 honours and, as of Sunday , 737 games with Liverpool was taken privately last summer and he has refused to dwell on the ramifications since. That is, until looking at his phone in the away changing room at Craven Cottage last Sunday.
“It sounds stupid but I haven’t thought about this being the end at all; it’s been more like, ‘We’ve got QPR at the weekend’ or whoever,” the 35-year-old explains. “But before the Fulham game someone sent me a text that said, ‘Don’t get sent off’ and I thought, ‘Imagine missing your last game at Anfield through suspension’. So before we went out I had a word with Mark Halsey. I said to him that if I’m misbehaving or whatever, just get the bench to bring me off. He said, ‘Don’t handball it on the line or commit a professional foul and you’ll be all right’. I hadn’t thought about it before then but I was thinking about it throughout the Fulham game. I just kept thinking, ‘Don’t do anything stupid’.”
Stupidity could not have elevated Carragher from emerging midfielder at Liverpool to put-upon full-back to one of the finest central defenders in Europe at his peak. Intelligence and an instinctive awareness of danger did. The defender knew this would be his last campaign from the outset, having lost his regular first-team place the previous season under the former manager Kenny Dalglish.
Nothing in the first half of Brendan Rodgers’ debut campaign challenged that decision but, courtesy of the single-mindedness that made the best, and more, of his talent, when Carragher bids farewell to Anfield on Sunday he will leave them wanting more.
A pundit’s role on Sky awaits instead of the move into coaching or management frequently predicted. Steven Gerrard is adamant the Liverpool vice-captain’s experience will not be lost to the game for good and that he will eventually return. More surprising, perhaps, is the relish with which Carragher is approaching his curtain call.
“I’m looking forward to the end now,” he admits. “I have for a while. My missus and family have known for a while, so we are looking forward to doing different things. In 12 months’ time I might think, ‘I haven’t missed anything’. I want to go and do something else, so that I either will or won’t miss it. And if I do miss it, it will give me that buzz again to try and get back in. But perhaps it won’t and I’ll think, ‘This is great, I love doing what I’m doing, great life, bit more time, going out doing different things’. I’m looking forward to seeing how it pans out.”
Where to channel that undiluted passion, however, remains an unknown. “I’ve been thinking about that and I don’t know what to do,” adds Carragher. “All of that running around and shouting every day gets it out of your system. I’ll have to see if there are any five-a-side teams, although I actually fancy having a go at squash.” He has put plenty back into Bootle, providing vital financial support for the Brunswick Youth Club for example and receiving the freedom of the borough of Sefton for his charity work, to merit an invitation.
If there is regret at leaving a Liverpool team that have been cut adrift from the leading pack in the Premier League then Carragher disguises it well. He faced a crowded press conference at Melwood on Wednesday when the number of questions about not winning the title seemed disproportionate to a career yielding Champions League, Uefa Cup, FA Cup and League Cup success, but seventh in the table and second-best on Merseyside is not how he wanted to go. Carragher sees only reasons for optimism at Anfield.
“The manager,” he states, “he’s really good and I think he will take it up again next season. And I’d imagine financial fair play will help us, although I don’t know much about it. Even the [Sir Alex] Ferguson situation will help in some respects, not just Liverpool but maybe it will give everyone an opportunity.
“Then there’s the form we have showed since Christmas, January time. In the first half of the season we had a lot of kids in the team and it’s not easy, not for the manager either. He lost a lot of experience in the summer in Dirk Kuyt, Craig Bellamy and Maxi [Rodríguez], and he was replacing them with Raheem Sterling and Suso at the start. With the signing of Sturridge and [Philippe] Coutinho, the second half of the season has given us a positive to take into the next one. But I think we should be looking for the top four – we’ve got to get into the top four. We can’t be having it where we’ve not even been close enough to put a challenge in throughout the season.”
One name is missing from Carragher’s list of the reasons for Liverpool’s post-January improvement: his own. Even Rodgers conceded the team lacked “men” and “a voice” after defeat at Manchester United on 13 January and the subsequent return of Carragher rectified that weakness at a stroke.
The clamour for the veteran to reconsider his retirement plans, which involved Liverpool’s owners at one point, soon gathered pace and the flaw in Carragher’s optimism is that a huge void will be created at Anfield when his desire, drive and formidable will-to-win disappear. He does not recognise the characteristics to fill that void in those coming through.
“It’s becoming less and less, I must say,” Carragher laments. “It’s just different generations. I’m sure my dad will say he had more than me. It’s just society in general now. You don’t see it as much. You could talk of all other reasons why it is, but you don’t see as many kids with it as you should. It’s a worry for football, not just Liverpool.
“It’s not just an excuse for Liverpool kids. If anyone is going to have that character it’s going to be Liverpool kids, so maybe they should all be worried. In general you hear stories of kids coming through, from other clubs and different things, and you do sometimes wonder if they have got that bit of something about them.”
It is for that reason Carragher has only admiration for Ferguson, the man who knocked Liverpool off their perch (though Carragher will tell you it was Graeme Souness) and with whom he shares retirement day. He admits: “I like him because I find it remarkable to see someone who is a bit like yourself in terms of passion but at that age. It’s brilliant to have that passion to win at 71. He’s been a great manager and it would be stupid to say anything else.”
Carragher plans to keep a respectful distance from Liverpool once the game with Queens Park Rangers, the guard of honour and a planned address to the Anfield crowd are over. “You have to be careful,” he says, though he cannot go too far with a son at the club’s academy and a job in the television studio next season.
“When you have a good point to make or a valid one I have always respected that,” he adds. “Players like people saying good things about them and, of course, no one is ever wrong when they do that, but they always are when they say bad stuff. That winds me up a bit. But I’m ready for it. I’ve told the lads if they’re not performing they will be getting it.”
Liverpool’s No23 insists he would decline the opportunity to increase his goal haul of five even if the team are winning 3-0 and awarded a last-minute penalty against QPR. “I wouldn’t take one. Imagine missing that on your last game. You’d go for a pint after and they’d be saying, ‘You missed a penalty in your last game!’”
After Istanbul, Turin, Dortmund and Cardiff, to select just a few highlights, how would the veteran of 150 European appearances and countless rescue acts for Liverpool like to be remembered? “Nothing special,” says Carragher. “Just someone who was always there, home and away, and gave his all.”
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