Note from editor: This article was written prior to Saturday’s defeat at West Brom.
As long as he stays injury-free, James Lee Duncan Carragher should end the 2010/11 season second in the all-time list of appearances for Liverpool Football Club. As things stand, Carra is joint fourth on 660 with Ian Rush but only five appearances behind Emlyn Hughes and Ray Clemence. Surpassing these legends is well within his sights now but he’s unlikely to ever break Ian Callaghan’s record of 857 games, not unless the medical staff implant enough bionic technology into him to keep him playing almost to his 40s.
One-club players are rare these days and it is testament to a boyhood Everton supporter that he has given his all for Liverpool ever since breaking into the first team fourteen years ago. His reliability and strength at the back have even ensured he currently holds a record all of his own – when he came on as substitute against Sparta Prague in the Europa League in February 2011, he made a record 137th European appearance for a British player (although Ryan Giggs has every chance of snatching that record back before the end of the season).
Carragher may be modest about his own achievements when he claims to have “been fortunate the managers have always taken to me”, but looking back at his career it is easy to see the attributes which have ensured bosses from Roy Evans to Kenny Dalglish have wanted him in their starting eleven. Carra plays with a never-say-die attitude that was once a given amongst English defenders but is a rarer commodity these days. He never stops talking to the players around him, organising the defence, encouraging youngsters at times, berating the mistakes of more experienced team-mates who ought to know better at others – by his own admission he once “had to send a text message to Pepe Reina apologising for what I’d said during a game.” Jamie is never afraid to put his body on the line for the club. He’s never complained about where he has been played – despite the fact that his strongest position is in the centre of defence he has happily played both full-back roles successfully and in his early days was often deployed in the midfield too. Perhaps most importantly of all Carragher knows his own limitations. He’s never tried to play the sort of Alan Hansen possession football out of defence, preferring to hit the ball into Row Z when necessary, or to make use of his superb passing ability and vision when possible.
But for another local boy done very good, one Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher would surely have captained Liverpool on far more occasions – both lead by example and refuse to accept defeat. When it comes to Gerrard there are countless matches people cite as his best ever performance for the club. For me, and thousands of others, however, Carra’s finest hour is not really in debate. Without his valiant efforts at the back during the 2005 Champion’s League final, Liverpool may not have been able to add that fifth star to their shirts. Despite the exhaustion of extra time, despite obviously painful cramps, despite the deadly potency of AC Milan’s forward players, Carragher stood as resolute as Gandalf against the Balrog and refused to let them pass. I’m happy to hear people make a claim for different performances from our number 23 but for me his 2 hour display in Istanbul summed up absolutely everything about the man. Not only did he refuse to lie down, his example ensured that those around him did not lie down either – no mean feat when you recall that our defence on the night included one Djimi ‘Whoops-a-Daisy’ Traore.
I hope Jamie continues to pull on the red shirt for as long as possible and that when he finally does hang up his boots the club are smart enough to make sure he is brought onto the coaching staff. Could he manage the club one day in the future? Why not? He has previously admitted he would love to take on the top job at Anfield one day and acknowledged that while there might be much to admire and learn from the managerial approach of Alex Ferguson, ultimately Carra’s aim as a manager would be “to knock Fergie off his f—ing perch.”
Liverpool have a celebrated track record of grooming up stalwart players to one day take over as manager. The great Bob Paisley himself went through the ranks from player to physio to coach to assistant manager to boss in his 44 year history at the club. And even after his retirement in 1983 Bob continued to be associated with Liverpool FC, acting as mentor to Kenny Dalglish, another player who became manager. Who’s to say that a few years from now Dalglish couldn’t take on the same sort of mentoring role for Carragher? Although some players find the transition into coaching and management a tricky one, Jamie is a noted student of the game. His knowledge of the history of Liverpool extends beyond mere stats to embrace tactical awareness. And in his own playing career he has experienced and learned from the variety of managerial approaches on offer at both club and country from such diverse figures as Roy Evans, Gerard Houllier, Rafa, Kenny, Sven Goran Erikson and Fabio Capello.
For now Carra will presumably have his sights set on the rest of this season and the achievement within his reach, namely notching up more appearances than all but one of the club’s illustrious past players. It might seem scant consolation in a season during which Liverpool have wavered and which will see no addition to Jamie’s collection of two FA cup winner’s medals, two League Cup winner’s medals, one UEFA Cup winner’s medal and that 2005 Champion’s League winner’s medal, but I’m sure overtaking everybody but Ian Callaghan will mean a great deal to the Bootle boy. Surely it’s a genuine example of when being second best is no disgrace at all, isn’t it?