Aaron Cutler discusses the likely contenders to replace Jamie Carragher as vice-captain.
When reds legend Jamie Carragher bows out at the end of the season the club will lose far more than simply a player. A local boy made good, he and Steven Gerrard have come to define modern day Liverpool. Graduates of the academy system they have tackled the footballing world together – scaling immense highs and depressing lows side-by-side. Icons of both the club and city they may well be the last of a dying breed.
Indeed it is hard to envisage another scouser serving his apprenticeship at Kirby before leading the side to Champions League glory. His name rightly etched in Anfield folklore Carra’s send-off promises to be an emotional occasion.
Carragher’s retirement also leaves a big conundrum for manager Brendan Rodgers. At 35 the veteran defender has forced his way back into the starting line-up since February, which says as much about those vying for his position as it does the man’s enduring quality.
In his absence a commanding centre back is essential. Despite Carra’s fine form the side have looked precariously fragile in defence and better opponents would have punished such frailties last week. A leader is needed to marshal the back four and stand-up to the physical presence posed by the likes of Matt Smth (Oldham) and Christian Benteke (Villa).
Martin Skrtel is seemingly not that man. Having starred last season the Slovak has struggled for form this term and lost favour with Rodgers long ago. Likewise Sebastian Coates appears to have no future on Merseyside, the towering Uruguayan unable to acclimatise to the robust nature of English football. With both rumoured to be heading for the exit door that leaves us three centre-halves down and in desperate need of reinforcements. Ashley Williams and Toby Alderweireld have been heavily linked and rumours of plenty are sure to fly throughout the summer months. One certainty however is that Rodgers needs to buy well as pretty football can so easily be undone by calamitous defending.
Carragher’s leadership qualities have also proved invaluable for a great many years. Go to Anfield on any match day and you can hear Carra’s voice bellowing down at pitch level, barking-out instructions, cajoling and rollicking teammates in equal measure. A skipper in all but name, his influence in this respect will be greatly missed. Which begs the question – who inherits the vice captaincy? Far from a trivial role, the recipient will be seen as the heir apparent to Gerrard going forward. Realistically, Rodgers has four contenders – all of which are considered below:
Perhaps the favourite for the role, Pepe Reina has adorned the armband in the absence of both Gerrard and Carragher. A big character he is hugely popular within the dressing room and was earmarked as a future captain by Gerrard himself in 2009. Now in his eighth year with the club Reina is also the longest serving player outside the aforementioned duo.
A double European Championship and World Cup Winner he has a glittering trophy collection and a love for Liverpool proudly expressed in his recent autobiography. Furthermore when fit Reina starts – a necessity for anyone with realistic ambitions of captaining the side. On the flipside there has always been a big debate about goalkeepers skippering teams. The likes of Iker Casillas, Dino Zoff and Gianpiero Combi have captained with great distinction but many feel a leader should be able to influence matters from open play.
Pepe’s form and future may also raise question marks. So often reliable between the sticks the Spaniard has dropped his fair share of clangers in recent seasons and drawn criticism from many quarters. Numerous commentators claim he has struggled to adjust to Rodgers set-up, whereby he is expected to adopt a sweeper-like role at times. That is hard to swallow given his neat footwork and fine distribution, with confidence more likely his undoing. Despite showing steady improvement of late potential replacements have been discussed in various circles. To fan those flames further his father also talked up a move to Barcelona at the turn of the year. For his part the player himself has pledged his commitment and should he stay there is every chance he will succeed Carragher.
Lucas’ story is one of prevailing against all odds. Long ridiculed by fans and pundits alike, the Brazilian knuckled down to re-invent himself as a tough tackling defensive midfielder. One of precious few performers of the ill-fated Roy Hodgson era, he continued his improvement under Kenny Dalglish until successive injuries robbed him of almost a year’s football.
In his absence Liverpool faltered badly, resulting in both his worth and popularity growing two-fold. A mixed season this time round he still seems to be building towards absolute fitness. Nevertheless come crunch games he always features and allows the likes of Gerrard and Jordan Henderson to venture forward by offering defensive cover.
Is he a leader? Debatable. Hodgson gave him the armband for his first game in charge but that Europa tie aside he has never led the side. Quiet and reserved in truth he may not be captain material but he deserves a mention and will likely come into Rodgers reckoning.
Daniel Agger is somewhat of a cult figure amongst supporters. Not only a technically gifted defender, he makes no secret of his love for all things Liverpool – tattooing his fingers with YNWA as a case in point. Resisting all overtures from Manchester City last summer he signed a new deal with the club in October. A classy player capable of bringing the ball forward and launching attacks with great frequency his manager rates him as one of the top centre backs in Europe. As if to reinforce that opinion, Spanish giants Barcelona are long-term admirers and reportedly plan a summer raid.
As with Reina though, the Dane’s form has been shaky just recently and he seems to require a more authoritative figure alongside him to bring out his best. That said, he captains his national side and is never afraid to voice an opinion – regularly ‘debating’ points with match officials. A real character, a great many fans relate to Agger and he would make a popular, if unlikely, vice-captain.
The final (realistic) candidate to follow in Carragher’s footsteps is Luis Suarez. Yes controversy seems to dog the Uruguayan, with opponents and media critics alike baying for blood but what a talent. At the start of this season he truly did lead by example, propping-up a side labouring under the weight of a new style and lack of forward options. He has an influence in pretty much every game and is at the heart of all attacking play. Of course the major question is can we keep him?
Well perhaps through offering him such responsibility we could tempt him to prolong his Anfield career and spearhead a return to Europe’s elite. Suarez captained the reds in the FA Cup defeat to Oldham and has also skippered Ajax and Uruguay at last summer’s Olympic Games.
The fact Rodgers entrusted him with the role at Boundary Park suggests he has entertained the idea long-term. Concerns may be raised about his temperament but similar qualms were voiced about Gerrard before he inherited the armband from Sami Hyypia. In many ways the title forced Stevie to mature, which proved the making of him.
Suarez may not be an obvious leader but he is without doubt our best player and the man on whom we pin our hopes. Having regularly stated his affection for Liverpool he would cherish the role and perhaps have one eye on succeeding Gerrard himself. Handing him the vice captaincy could prove a bold yet inspired move.
Whoever Rodgers opts for needs to step-up and exert the kind of influence Carragher has for fifteen years plus. One of the criticisms aimed against this Liverpool side is its lack of leaders, after all talent can only get you so far. In tough situations – think a wet and windy night trailing at the DW Stadium – you need people to come to the fore and take responsibility. There was always going to come a time when Carragher bowed out and before long Gerrard will follow suit. New leaders are required, who will stand-up?