The dressing room joker, to the warrior on the pitch, the career of Jamie Carragher will forever be one looked at by many as a benchmark for future players who set out on their long journey to following their dreams.
He won every domestic trophy barring the title, he won the Champions League, the Uefa Cup and the Uefa Super Cup. He’s been in the PFA team of the season and he’s been voted the Liverpool player of the year twice.
There are few players around the world who will ever achieve what Carra has, a man always discussed as the player who never had the stand out ability of a Michael Owen or a Steven Gerrard, but who through hard work, graft, training and passion made it to the top and stayed there for over fifteen years.
And now that Carra has hung up his boots, he’s chosen to take a little break away from the game, but still involved through punditry, and most of all as a fan.
For years many people have predicted that Carra would go into coaching after he hung up his boots. It’s not hard to see why; Carra’s life is football – when asked about his favourite sport outside football by Liverpool TV, Carra looked bemused and said ‘five aside’.
You could be forgiven for thinking that was just a witty response by a man known as one of the biggest jokers in the dressing room, but even his team mates agree that Carra was being completely genuine when he said that.
His passion for the game is clear to see, whilst as a substitute for most of the early stages of Liverpool’s 2012/13 season he was often seen shaking his head at some of the defensive displays on offer and was seen quite a few times speaking to Brendan Rodgers in the dugout.
In training sessions Alex Ingelthorpe commented that Carra trains as hard as ever and even in the training games, you’d think he was playing in a World Cup Final; distraught when conceding a goal, tackling as hard as any competitive game and berating the unfortunate coach given the role of refereeing whenever he feels hard done by a decision.
That’s the same way Carra plays the game, an organiser, a leader and a huge influence on the field of play with not just his own side, but the opposition and the match officials too. How many times have we said, carra managed the referee there, not in a sinister way, but in the way that all the great players do.
As much as Carra is all of these things, he has never confused his knowledge of the game by thinking he knows best, he’s played his heart out throughout his Liverpool career and respected the managers decisions, whilst not always agreeing with all of the managers on everything – that’s human and natural in any profession.
In many ways, that’s the perfect recipe for being a coach – knowledge, passion and total dedication to the beautiful game.
However that in many ways has left Carra wary of management, the path he felt was always laid ahead for him despite his personal feelings. Speaking to Chris Bascombe in The Telegraph, Carra described his decision to take a little step away from the game;
If you’d asked me at the start of my career I would have said I was going to be a manager,” he says. “I may still be in future, but there seemed to be an expectation it was a natural progression for me.
“I’d read all the interviews with other players mentioning how much I love playing, watching, reading and talking about it and it seemed to make people just presume it would happen.
“It’s not an easy thing to get into even if you want it. I always thought just because I love football, it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m desperate to manage.
“The days of a top player walking into a major job are long gone. That’s quite right, too. No one without experience has the right to go straight in. Players should do their apprenticeship. Sir Alex Ferguson made that point.
“You can mention Pep Guardiola but he’s the exception and even he needed a break eventually.
“In the modern era, with the rewards the top players have during their career and the risks involved moving into management, more will look at it and say they don’t need it.
“You have to remember how many hours these managers put in to get where they are. I have so much respect for all the top managers in the world for that.
“When you’re a player at the top of the game it’s a lot harder to find the motivation to follow that route if you have other opportunities there for you.
“I’m sure if I really want it I could go down the leagues and find somewhere but if it doesn’t go well, what then? You have no experience, you’re sent into this new world and then, before you know it, it’s over and you’re out.”
Carra has looked at the great managers he’s known and felt there was a point when the same manager who walked into the club, walked out a different man, an almost broken man. Citing Gerrard Houllier and Rafael Benitez, Carra said:
“I would argue with anyone they did good jobs at Liverpool given what they won, and they both certainly helped me. But what I would also say is the fella who walked in the door was not the same fella who walked out. A lot of that has to do with the job.
He went on:
“For managers, it is even worse with more repercussions. They have that grind every day; then those press conferences before and after games when you’re feeling and looking at your worst, vulnerable to coming across the wrong way.
“You see some managers years later and they still seem bitter about their experiences, understandably so.
“For me football is a game to be loved, to be enjoyed. You will have ups and downs, but I see in some managers how the game has eaten them up. I love the game too much to let that happen to me. You need to get the daily football life out of your system at some point.3
Does this mean that Carra will never manage or coach? In truth nobody knows, but one would hope if he feels the tug on his heart strings to come back into the game as a coach or indeed as a manager Carra wouldn’t necessarily rule it out.
The truth for many Liverpool fans is that the best result for everyone is for Carra to spend time watching other teams and not simply fall straight back into Liverpool, if he ever fell back at all.
Nobody can underestimate the importance of making new connections and earning a reputation carved outside of Liverpool. That’s a necessity in the modern game where football is truly global, connections can last a lifetime and anyone thinking about being a manager at the top level has to learn how things are done, not just the Liverpool way, but the way of the rest of the world.
You get the feeling that potentially Carra could draw on the experiences he had as a player never quite being able to make the England centre back role his own, constantly overlooked, sometimes unfairly, and it could be that he was always a one man club which can unfairly go against players and the reputation they leave behind afterwards.
Despite achieving the highest honour in European club football, people will always say, why did he not test himself and try to get into some of the best teams in the world, like Ibrahimovic or Beckham did and with a mixture of success and failure. That criticism can haunt someone, even when the reality is the respect was always there, they just didn’t realise it, when their whole life was spent in the bubble which is Liverpool.
For us as fans who seen Carra week in week out, we’ll always know he was one of the best to done a red shirt, however he may well feel he needs to get a sense of what people think of him outside of Liverpool as both a city and a club. Steven Gerrard and Carra himself have both admitted that over the years at times they’ve felt maybe that they have been taken for granted, however they’ve appreciated all that they’ve had with Liverpool and only ever wanted it the way it was.
If Carra was to turn to coaching, I get the feeling he may well be a pragmatist when it comes to footballing philosophy; he’s never said he prefers one system to another, at least publically. Yet he’s played under Evans, Houllier, Benitez, Dalglish and Brendan Rodgers – the tactical differences are clear for all to see, the styles slightly adapted, the tactics always different
With England he’s worked with Sven Goran Eriksen to Fabio Capello; Carra knows the game, he knows different methods and what’s more surprising is that he’s a player who has flourished despite playing in different systems, formations and more recently with less experienced players and one could argue with players of less ability as opposed to some of the great Liverpool teams of recent years.
As a player Carra has read the game and learned through playing up front as a youngster, then moving to central midfield, defensive midfield, right back and eventually settling in central defence. He knows how the roles of the individual positions on the pitch, contribute to bind the team together in order to achieve the win. His organisation of the team, his management of the players on the field is something he’s learned and honed over many years.
Something hard to imagine and difficult for Liverpool fans to accept is the prospect of Carra turning up one day as the opposing coach of a rival club, it may well happen, it might not.
Football is much a profession as it is an emotional rollercoaster; Dalglish, Benitez and Hyypia have come to Anfield as managers of opposing sides. All were loved and respected and all still are to this day, the chants of their names still ring aloud from the Kop even after all these years.
These great men, once of Liverpool all love the club as much as Liverpool love them and whilst that’s a beautiful fact that hopefully will never change, the important thing is to remember is that Carra will always Love the club, his son plays for our academy and his professional career, highs, lows, defeats and triumphs have all been played out with the Liverbird on his chest.
The song we sing, the Anthem of our club is you’ll never walk alone and one thing for sure, in the hearts of the fans Carra YNWA.
For more articles on Carragher, view our Jamie Carragher Tribute Book here.