Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Farewell Carra: A Tribute to a Liverpool Legend

For a boyhood Evertonian to come to be known as "Mr Liverpool", you know he must have been a special talent. When Jamie Carragher made his debut as a substitute against Middlesbrough in January 1997 in an otherwise unremarkable 2-1 League Cup defeat, few in attendance could have predicted the impact that that eighteen-year old would go on to have at Anfield.

Over sixteen years, though, Carra has been a revelation, making over 700 appearances and accumulating winners' medals in every competition except for the Premier League, earning a special affection from Kopites in the process. He may have scored more own goals against than goals for Liverpool, despite beginning life as a striker in the youth teams, but the number of points he has won for the club with his world-class defensive performances is innumerable, while he is also the proud holder of the record for the most number of clean sheets in the Premier League for a defender, namely 200.

His capacity to lead both vocally and by example has been immensely valuable, particularly in helping develop a number of younger defenders, while his technical ability is rivaled by only the very best in the game. During his career he repeatedly demonstrated his ability to block, intercept and tackle at crucial stages, while he has never been one to shirk responsibility and fade into the background on big occasions. He has always been the leader, rallying the troops to give 100% for the fans when it matters most.

Examples abound of Carragher's ability shining through in big matches, but the ones fans remember the most came in the club's run to Istanbul during the 2004/2005 season. Despite struggling in the League, Liverpool seemed to be transformed when the lights came on at Anfield for a European night and Carragher was at the heart of many crucial defensive displays that helped the Reds to once again defy the odds and progress to the next round.

In Turin, Carra and his partner in the centre of defence Sami Hyypia were instrumental in keeping a clean sheet against Juventus that ensured the Merseysiders' progression to the semi-finals against Jose Mourinho's Chelsea. On that occasion, after Luis Garcia's early 'ghost goal' had given the Reds' a slim lead, the Blues put Benitez's side under constant pressure in the second half. They were denied manfully by Carra and co., though, leaving the Portuguese manager to resort to throwing on tall centre back Robert Huth up front in the dying moments. Predictably, however, Carra dealt with that challenge as well and put in a performance that led Alan Hansen, widely recognised as one of the best defenders in the club's history, to state that Carragher was ten times the defender that he was.

In Istanbul, Carra secured his status as a Liverpool legend. He gave his all, literally putting his body on the line to promote the Reds' cause and guarantee that the team's exceptional second half comeback didn't go to waste by conceding a late fourth goal. Crippled by cramp, Carra continued to marshal the defence and stifle Shevchenko nevertheless, hauling himself up from the ground repeatedly to make clearance after crucial clearance. He then was the first to run to congratulate Jerzy Dudek after saving the final spot kick in the penalty shootout, his joy at being part of the team to win the European Cup for keeps for Liverpool overcoming the inevitable pain the number 23 must have felt after 120 gruelling minutes.

Carra celebrates with supporters in Istanbul
As much as his ability is appreciated by supporters, the fans' love for the local lad ultimately stems from the fact that he is one of us. In an age of superstar foreign footballers with more money than sense and loyalty that rarely lasts beyond their next pay cheque, Carra is a refreshingly old-school footballer in the distinctive tradition of the Liverpool Way : dedicated, determined and honest, Carra isn't afraid to tell it as it is and state his opinion in a straight-forward manner that fans can relate to, which should put him in good stead for his punditry role next season.

Characteristically humble, Carra always put the club first. This was demonstrated during the first half of the season just finished, when he admirably accepted Brendan Rodgers' decision to have Agger and Skrtel as his first choice centre backs and adapted to his new role as a back-up. Not once did he criticise the manager or have a pathetic hissy fit like a certain Shrek did at Old Trafford. Instead, he got his head down and went to work at winning back the permanent place in the first team he used to enjoy and, soon after announcing his retirement at the end of the campaign, he was back in the first team, as Rodgers turned to him after a dip in Skrtel's form. He played in fourteen of Liverpool's last fifteen League matches, helping the Reds to keep clean sheets in half of those matches and suffering defeat only once. During his final matches for the club he proved that he could still add value and perform ably. 

On the pitch, Rodgers will find it extremely difficult to find someone with similar ability to Carra. Off the pitch, it will be impossible to find a player with Carragher's unique character and intimate connection with the supporters. Despite his horrendous time as manager at Anfield, current England boss Roy Hodgson summed up Carragher well:

"If there is a spirit of Shankly or a spirit of Anfield, then it's Jamie Carragher and his good friend Steven."

Carragher's spirit is unique and it will be sorely missed by supporters. In fact, I have unconsciously written in the present tense for large parts of this tribute because it seems unbelievable that we will never see Carra put on a Red shirt as a Liverpool player ever again. He is undoubtedly a Liverpool legend whose name will be uttered alongside the likes of Kenny Dalglish, Ian Rush and Steven Gerrard when retelling tales of the Reds' storied history. His considerable contribution to the club and supporters' memories of his career will never be forgotten.

You'll Never Walk Alone, Carra

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