The Milanese love Baresi. He epitomised the club during his playing days with his elegance, class and longevity, not to mention his distaste for all things Internazionale. In a recent interview he was asked whether he was disappointed by the lack of loyalty players show to their clubs nowadays? ‘No’, he replied, ‘it is unlikely we’ll ever see another Maldini who will stick around for 20 years at one club’ [4-4-2, 2012]. Maybe he’s right. Of the current batch of youngsters making a name for themselves in world football, it could be argued that they will throw loyalties aside if the right move came along. That is why men like Scholes, Totti, Gerrard, Puyol, Giggs and Xavi represent a dying breed. Can you imagine in this day and age, a local lad coming through the ranks at a club, representing the ethics of the fans, breaking records and winning medals? Perhaps it is no surprise the adulation Jamie Carragher is offered by Liverpool fans, even if those outside the city don’t seem to understand it.
In 2012 before a Europa League home match, the chiselled Scouser was presented with a silver Liverbird in honour of the 700 appearances he had made for the club. Memories of nights when Liverpool stormed the Nou Camp, conquered the Bernebeu and silenced the San Siro came flooding back, memories of nights to take to the grave. Fitting, that the Kop choir rejoiced once more, ‘we all dream of a team of Carragher’s’.
New players who sign for Liverpool often comment on their shock at seeing the 35 year old’s desire during training. Leading the line and organising those around him, the soon-to-be retired Carragher is a leader without the armband. In 2010 when Fabio Capello took the England job he made it his first task to bring Jamie Carragher out of retirement. As Marcotti  recalls ‘Capello loved the way he played football. He had come to rely more on his reading of the game, he rarely screwed up the big occasions. He brought the kind of intangibles that Capello valued’. Capello had worked with some of the games greatest central defenders during his career (Maldini, Baresi, Hierro, Samuel, Cannavaro) yet regarded Carragher just as highly. Intangible mental attributes had been integrated in Carra from a very early age.
Carragher started his 2008 autobiography, not by talking about his great career, but by highlighting the moment that gave him his character. Having faked injury as a 7-year-old so he could go home and get out of the hail-stones, young James received a hiding from his father and was told ‘no Carragher was going to be seen as a coward, especially not in public’. Needless to say the child from Bootle never did back down. His father managed Sunday league teams all through Jamies youth and a ‘win at all costs’ attitude was reinforced through his veins and onto the pitch. Being the man-of-the-people that he is, Jamie can still be seen on Buckley Hill in his spare time watching Sunday league games, such is his love for football.
Initially a promising striker, Carragher advanced through the age groups in Liverpool’s youth team and was even selected to go to the illustrious Lilleshall over Frank Lampard, scoring past Gigi Buffon against Italy and forcing future team mate Emile Heskey to watch from the bench. Minutes into his 1997 debut against Aston Villa, Carragher was booked for a vicious tackle on Andy Townsend. The Kop loved him instantly.
Evans favoured Carragher as a central midfielder, with Fowler and Owen leading the line. Later, his understanding of the game allowed for him to be deployed further back. The tough Bootle mentality never left Carragher. When Rigobert Song chose to ridicule Carra’s playing style, the defender recollects how he sought revenge; “Song walked on to the training pitch with a smile on his face. He was limping off it with a grimace an hour later. The first chance I got, I did him. Never have I hunted down a 50–50 tackle with greater appetite. ‘You’re not fucking laughing now, are you, you soft c*nt?’ I said as he hobbled away“.
Houllier used Carra as a utility man across the back four, then as a left back throughout the 2000/01 season when Liverpool won their magnificent treble. When Rafael Benitez got the Liverpool job in 2004, Carragher was utilised as a centre back alongside Sami Hyypia, forming one of modern football’s greatest defensive partnerships. Throughout the 2004/2005 Champions League campaign, Carragher was a consistent performer nullifying Europe’s elite attackers. Rivaldo, Saviola and Adebayor were kept quiet during the group stages. In the first knock out round against Leverkusen, Berbatov and Donovan hardly had a sniff. Everyone in football predicted that Liverpool would be eliminated by Juventus in the quarter-finals. The Old Lady boasted a great squad with Buffon, Thuram, Cannavaro, Zambrotta, Nedved, Del Piero and Ibrahimovic (and Capello as coach) but it was Carragher and company who progressed. Liverpool then drew Mourinho’s Chelsea squad, the richest team in football who represented the games bourgeois. Liverpool represented the working-classes. Drogba, Robben, Lampard, Carvalho and Terry all posed great threats in the Premier League, eventually winning the title, but against Liverpool home and away in Europe they failed to score. Against all odds Liverpool progressed to the Champions League final. Players like Dudek, Traore, Kewell, Diao, Biscan and Nunez – weak links in any team – now had the opportunity to pit themselves against AC’s household names; Stam, Cafu, Nesta, Seedorf, Pirlo, Gattuso, Kaka, Shevchenko. Everybody knows what happened next and its thanks to Benitez’s genius, Gerrard and Alonso’s brilliance, Hyypia and Hamann’s composure and Carragher’s never-say-die attitude that Liverpool won their fifth European Cup that season. Images of Carragher lying on the floor suffering cramp in extra time, yet returning like Lazarus to quell Milan will never leave any Liverpool fans consciousness. When Dudek saved Shevchenko’s penalty, Carragher led the way in sprinting towards the keeper before peeling off towards the fans. Perhaps the defining picture of Jamie Carraghers career will be the Scouser with his socks at his ankles and his shirt hanging out, jumping for joy towards the Liverpool fans and their famous banners depicting victories over Gladbach and Brugge, history meeting history.
Established as one of Europe’s best centre-halves, England still failed to acknowledge Carraghers talents. It’s still the case today as many supporters outside of Liverpool are baffled by the adulation he is offered. The city of Liverpool has a complex social fabric and many players who represent the club (even locals) fail to recognise this. Carragher did not. Paolo Maldini wasn’t Milanese enough for the Milanese, they booed him in his last game for the club and chanted for Baresi instead. Jamie Carragher understood Liverpool better than any player ever has done. A man of the people, he spoke for Liverpool, compare it the way Totti speaks for Roma. The leftist, localised, anti-nationalist populace of the city were delighted when they heard that Carragher had chose to retire from International duty. In his biography Carragher openly discusses the ‘Scouse not English’ mentality (which took a considerable amount of balls to do). He stated how it was ‘only England’ and that the Liverbird devours the 3 Lions in the fight for his affections. The mystique of Carragher was further heightened when he responded to Adrian Durhams heckling of him on national radio (its on youtube, give it a listen) and offered him down to Anfield for a confrontation. Durham crumbled, lesson learned. A Carragher is never a coward – especially in public.
England’s loss was Liverpool’s gain. John Terry stated in 2006 that Carragher was a better defender than him, arguably the only thing Terry has ever done to please Liverpool fans. When Carra retires at the end of the season Liverpool will miss his presence like no-other. Men who will run through a brick wall for their clubs are rare to produce, and almost impossible to buy. Carragher’s career has been a successful one which has helped bridge the gap for Liverpool in terms of competing at the very top of the game. The future is bright for this young squad and although Carragher failed to win a league medal in a red shirt, there is no reason why he can’t do so as part of a back room set up. You need only listen to a Jamie Carragher interview to note how switched on he is about the game he loves. Liverpool have been lucky to have him these last 15 years and it’s safe to say that he wont be going very far. James Jr plays for Liverpool’s academy, perhaps we could see Jamie being offered a role there too? Who knows what the future holds, a timely break is needed for the man initally.
How to summarise? For speaking out against England, for your charity work, for putting Nedved to bed, for 700 devoted games, for giving Scousers a voice and for being a fan in a shirt, thank you Jamie Carragher,
A working class hero is something to be.