It is an oft-recited tale. Having toed the Rubicon of physical limits during that Champions League final in 2005, Jamie Carragher was left in the shadows. The cramp, so debilitating and excruciating in the final half hour against AC Milan, returned on the podium just as the cup was lifted. Carragher, the local lad, Bootle’s Byzantine hero, should have been beside Steven Gerrard for arguably the greatest photograph in Liverpool’s glorious history.
Instead, Carragher was hobbling at the back of the podium as his rightful place beside his captain was instead filled by Josemi. Josemi’s contribution to Liverpool fell somewhere between slim and none. Without Carragher on the other hand, Liverpool would not have been Champions of Europe.
While Carragher was left in the shadows at the crowning glory of his career, he will be one of the most prominent names in the annals of Liverpool Football Club. His career transcended simply being a fine footballer for the club; he was the club. Football is ultimately a means of representation and self – expression. For example Brazil’s flair and skill is representative of the small guy surviving on the streets through individual skill and craft. Football in England was the working – class sport, hence the intense, collective never-say-die attitude propagated in the country.
Jamie Carragher embodied Liverpool. It was the city that would not yield to Thatcher, the city that gritted its teeth during adversity and came out the other side. Carragher never yielded; never gave in. To see a product of Bootle containing the greatest players in Europe was edifying. None of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Samuel Eto’o, Ronaldinho, Didier Drogba, Andriy Shevchenko and Hernan Crespo will forget Jamie Carragher. He was the personification of Liverpool’s rise. From rioting in Toxteth to European Capital of Culture. From Sunday League to Champions League. Not bad for an Everton fan.
Carragher’s greatest characteristic was his leadership abilities. Rafa Benitez recognised this. Previously a utility defender, Benitez saw in Carragher the leader he required and made him the heart of his defence. (So much so that the actual captain, Steven Gerrard, was allowed drift alarmingly close to Chelsea). He was from the Franz Beckenbauer school of defending; remedying a lack of pace with an inch – perfect reading of the game. Beckenbauer once said, having been asked how he gets from ‘A’ to ‘B’ with such little pace, that he is never at ‘A’, always ‘B’. The myriad images of Carragher performing last – ditch challenges show how Liverpool’s number 23 always knew when and where to be on the football pitch.
Typically of the man, his retirement leaves Brendan Rodgers with a headache. The competitive Carragher had no time for wasting time, and his last season is not the futile lap of honour many thought it could be. He has played his way back into the side, and leaves Liverpool with three centre halves. Daniel Agger is injury – prone, Sebastian Coates is not fancied and Martin Skrtel is out of form.
Aside from the Premier League, Jamie Carragher has won it all. He has battled from Cardiff to Istanbul to Athens to Wembley. He will not remain in the shadows in the LFC history books. He will cast a shadow over his successors. He is football’s ultimate working class hero. If there is one thing to take from his long, illustrious career it is that a working class hero is something to be.