Jamie Carragher – The Passion of a Legend

NOWADAYS he is known for his analysis and comments. Jamie Carragher is one of the most popular pundits in England. Unlike his playing career, Carragher’s work with Sky Sports and other media outlets is being given much acknowledgment. The former Liverpool defender had always been a top player, but at the national team level, he never got the recognition and affection he received at his club. His mere 38 caps for England sums that up perfectly.

Before all the fame and glamour though, Carragher was just a young lad who hoped to play for his favorite hometown club. He was an Evertonian who made the switch to their close and bitter rivals Liverpool. But this was not the only dramatic change he made in his career. He started as a Centre Forward/attacking midfielder before going on to make his name at Centre Back.

When he started his career at Liverpool he said that after becoming a regular in the senior team he would like to wear the number 8 shirt. But it was another Liverpool legend who made that number his own while Carragher went on to don number 23. Before that, he shined in a Liverpool reserve team that included the likes of Michael Owen, Jamie Redknapp, and David James. He won the FA Youth Cup in 1996, the first and most important trophy, which would pave the way for his career.

Carragher was a defender in the old definition of the word. These days the emphasis is mostly on how good a Centre Back is with his feet, how many goals he scores or how many assists he provides, or even how he builds up the play from the back. The likes of Sergio Ramos, Gerrard Pique, Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng are the epitome of that school of thought. But Carragher was not like that. He was a hard-working, a hard tackling fighter who always put his body on the line- although that may have resulted in a few own goals. He was a player who always left everything on the pitch.

Like all things in life, Carra’s Liverpool career wasn’t smooth sailing. Manager Gérard Houllier deployed him as a Right Back after a series of mistakes he committed when he played in the Centre. It was when Raphael Benitez joined Liverpool that Carragher was restored to his favoured position. And it is under the Spanish manager that Carragher won the biggest prize of all, the Champions League.

The 2005 Champions League Final is one of the greatest and most dramatic finals in the history of the competition, or perhaps football. It was a game between a team that has proven its European pedigree in recent years -AC Milan- and a team that wasn’t expected to reach the Final, let alone win it. Despite domestic triumphs and a Europa League win a couple of years prior, Liverpool were nowhere near the European powerhouse that they once were. AC Milan, on the other hand, with their star-studded squad won the competition two years before as they beat Juventus on penalties at Old Trafford.

The first half of that game perfectly summed up the gulf in class between the two sides. The Italians led 3-0 at Half Time and the game was thought to be over. Carragher was perhaps thinking the same thing as he slid in to cut out a glorious Kaka cross before the ball sailed past him and Hernan Crespo cleverly dinked it beside Dudek to make the score beyond reach. It was a half that Carlo Ancelotti would later describe as “the best half any of my teams have ever played”. But in the words of Polish keeper Dudek, who had to pick the ball out of his net three times in the opening 45 minutes, “There is nothing that can’t be changed”.

The Reds roared back and in the craziest six minutes of football you will ever see, they leveled the score. Not even an impressive penalty save from Brazilian keeper Dida couldn’t stop them as Xabi Alonso smashed the rebound into the roof of the net to make it 3-3. There was no looking back after that. Andrea Shevchenko, who scored the winning penalty two years ago, missed this one to hand Liverpool the win.

Carragher went on to win the FA Cup the following year, in a similarly astounding fashion, but it was hard to top that magical night in Istanbul. Liverpool, despite investing in star players like Fernando Torres and having leaders like Gerrard and Carragher could not win the league title. Despite an impressive 2008/09 season and even after hammering Manchester United 4-1 at Old Trafford the Reds could not cross the finish line. In a career filled with glorious moments, this one must be a continuous cause of regret for Carragher.

Perhaps the sad part of his career was not being able to represent his country as he could have. Carragher was never really appreciated when it came to the national team. The focus was always on Chelsea’s formidable captain John Terry and Manchester United’s reliable defender Rio Ferdinand. England was so blessed with defenders at the time that Carragher was deemed expendable. But that in no way overshadows his impressive career nor does it put a question mark on his ability.

Former teammate Jamie Redknapp described him as very competitive and the most driven footballer he has ever met. Former Chelsea striker Didier Drogba named Carragher as the toughest opponent he had ever played against. Sir Alex Ferguson labeled him as “A fantastic example for any young lad.” While Thierry Henry said that it was hard playing against Carragher: “He was in your face, tackling and throwing his body all the time.” Perhaps the best description of Carragher came from a man who knows him better than most. When asked who the hardest working player in Liverpool was Steven Gerrard didn’t hesitate to point to the Centre back: ” Every single day, he used to train the way he played. He would always be oozing with sweat and push himself to the maximum.”

In March 2018 the two biggest and most successful clubs in English football faced each other. A quick double from youngster Marcus Rashford handed Manchester United a 2-1 win against Liverpool. The game was much more than three points as these games tend to be. It is a source of pride for the winning side while it brings despair to the losers. Having played in this fixture himself Carragher understands well what it means to the fans and he was watching this game as one. After the game was over the former Liverpool man did something he labeled as ‘the worst mistake of my career.’ After a verbal exchange with a Man United fan who was driving a car near him, that also had the fan’s daughter in the back seat, Carragher in a momentary loss of temper spat in the direction of the fan who was annoying him and the 14-year old girl beside him.

Carragher was quick to apologize for the incident. He did so on his Twitter account and on TV. Despite that being a deplorable action Carragher handled the matter well and got the sympathy and understanding of the football world. The former Liverpool man is currently suspended from Sky Sports where he works as a pundit, co-commentator, and host of Monday Night Football. However, his legacy as a footballer and a TV personality remains unscathed. This wasn’t the first time Carragher had a setback in his line of work. History tells us that he will come back stronger.

Carragher might not be fun to watch like Sergio Ramos, he might not have the league trophies Rio Ferdinand has or may not have enjoyed the attention John Terry received in abundance but he was a great defender in his own right. More than anything his passion and dedication made him stand out. Even when he is analyzing games you can see the enthusiasm radiate from him. You can see it in the way he slams a defender that is not giving 100%. For Carragher, it is all about Passion and he will forever be a legend of the Kop.

By Brook Genene with artwork by James O’Mara, @EntireDesign

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