By Christopher Boulay
As you’ve probably heard, Jamie Carragher is ready to call it a career effective at the end of the season.
It’s a long time coming, in a way. He just turned 35 years old last month. The defender hasn’t been up to snuff – as some would argue – for at least 18 months, if not longer. This saw him drop out of the pecking order to the more youthful Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel, who have been staples in the Liverpool back line for the past few years. Carragher’s decline was mainly due to age. It happens to everyone at some point.
Then, all of a sudden, he popped back into the frame this season, and has shown flashes of his old self as recently as the past month. When everyone thought he was on his way out, he fought back. He always fought back. But, now that he has returned, he makes a statement that every Liverpool fan knew was not far off, but hoped wouldn’t arrive too soon.
He told LiverpoolFC.com, “This will be my last season at Liverpool and my last as a professional footballer.”
More than 720 appearances down the road from when he started as a child in January 1997 against Middlesbrough, the lanky, loud and typically long-sleeved vice-captain is bowing out of the game. Carragher currently has a stranglehold on the second-most appearances all-time.
Many doubted that he would be able to reach the seemingly insurmountable heights of Ian Callaghan’s 857 appearances for the club, and they were proved right. Even still, Carragher is solidly in second, and that’s a figure he likely won’t give up any time soon.
At the time of writing, Carragher is nearly 60 appearances ahead of both Ray Clemence and Emlen Hughes. That figure will likely grow before the season is out. The next active player on the list is Steven Gerrard, but the Reds’ captain is more than 100 appearances behind. Gerrard should have at least another couple years in him in some capacity, but it could be a big ask to pass out Carragher. Additionally, with the state of the game today, with many players switching clubs every couple of years, the era of “one club players” may be past. Carragher’s name isn’t coming down from those heights easily, and there’s a reason for it.
On his day and in his prime, Carragher was one of the most reliable defenders on the planet. Take May 25, 2005, for example. In the Champions League Final, Carragher helped shore up the defense to aid in one of the most miraculous comebacks in professional soccer history. His skill and leadership on the pitch were absolutely critical to bringing the club’s fifth Champions League trophy home.
This is, of course, just one example. When looking at pretty much every major trophy win by Liverpool since he became a regular first-team member, Carragher had some important role. Sometimes it was play, other times it was more leadership. Most of the time, it was both. His ability to motivate and organize is something that will be missed at the club once he walks off the pitch for the final time. It is something that manager Brendan Rodgers will need to find a way to replace.
While it is nice to assume that the boyhood Everton supporter turned good will never leave the walls of Anfield, it wouldn’t be fair. Whether Carragher heads to begin television punditry, jumps right into management or takes some time off, it is probably safe to assume there will be a gap without the defender in the setup. It’s not ideal, but this time was bound to arrive for Liverpool. Adjusting is the most important thing.
Opposing fans will ridicule the defender for his notable mistakes. He has only played for one club, and he’s the third-leading scorer against that club. He has three more own goals with Liverpool than the ones he put in the back of the right net. Despite this, it seemed to be a point of frustration from the Reds’ supporters, as well as it created a certain level of understanding from them. Former attack man Dirk Kuyt may have been the “Working Class Hero,” but Carragher was a sort of everyman. He didn’t look like a footballer, but he certainly played like one. He was human. It just so happened that this human has won nearly every single trophy possible in his time at Liverpool.
“It has been a privilege and an honour to represent this great club for as long as I have and I am immensely proud to have done so and thankful for all the support I have had,” Carragher added in his statement. “There are many memories I want to share and people to thank, but now is not the time for that.”
Liverpool supporters will always have those memories.
The final match of Liverpool’s Premier League season takes place on Sunday, May 19. Queens Park Rangers will visit Anfield, and with the two teams looking for important wins through the rest of the league campaign, there may be quite a lot to play for, on both sides. To say it will be an emotional day may come off as condescending and obvious. To say it will be a special day is the truth.
Enjoy the man’s final contributions on the pitch as the days wind down. It almost certainly won’t be his final contributions to the club.
Thanks for everything, Carra.
Follow Chris Boulay on Twitter @chrismboulay