At the grand old age of 22, I’m constantly reminded how well and truly past it I am. This week in particular has served to shatter any illusions that I’m still youthful in any sense of the word. First Rebecca Adlington went and announced her retirement at 23 yesterday after admitting she can no longer compete with the “younger generation” of swimmers and today Jamie Carragher confirmed that he will hang up his boots at the end of the 2012/13 season. The reason that Carragher’s retirement has left me feeling so wrinkly is that he is one of only a handful of players along with the likes of Ryan Giggs, Phil Neville, Frank Lampard and Paul Scholes, who have been ever-present in the Premier League since I started following football. He will call time on what has been one of the longest, most decorated careers in recent years and will not only be a loss to his club, but to English football as a whole.
Born in Bootle, Carragher grew up as an Everton supporter before signing a youth contract with Liverpool in 1990. He made his first team debut for the Reds in the 1996/97 season. Although a centre back by trade, he carved out a reputation as a versatile defender, often filling in at right and left back when required. Carragher will always be remembered as a robust player who could time a tackle perfectly and wasn’t afraid to put his head into challenges that most footballers would be uncomfortable sticking their boot into. Ability aside, what Liverpool fans will probably miss most about their number 23 are his irreplaceable leadership qualities and the sort of passion he displays in every game, which can only be brought to the table by a man playing for his hometown club. He will also retire with the dubious honour of having netted over twice as many times at the wrong end in the Premier League than at the right end; he has only scored three times in 17 years at Anfield, whilst he’s managed to bag seven own goals in the same space of time.
Carragher’s career has coincided with one of the most successful periods in Liverpool’s history. During his time with the club, he has won two FA Cups, three League Cups, two Community Shields, one UEFA Cup and two UEFA Super Cups. His crowning achievement however is the UEFA Champions League winners’ medal he captured on that fateful night in Istanbul in 2005. The Red’s secured the title on penalties after a final against AC Milan, which will go down as one of the greatest of all time. The game didn’t only see Carragher put in one of the finest performances of his career, but also suggest to Reds keeper Jerzy Dudek that he re-enact Bruce Grobbelaar’s famous “spaghetti legs” from the club’s last European Cup triumph in 1984. Dudek managed to coax mistakes out of Serginho, Andrea Pirlo and the great Andriy Shevchenko and Liverpool lifted the trophy for the fifth time.
Despite being given the honour of representing his country 38 times over the course of 11 years, Carragher will likely look back on his England career with bittersweet feelings. Unlucky to have played in an era in which the Three Lions boasted world-class centre backs in the shape of Sol Campbell, Rio Ferdinand and John Terry, Carragher grew frustrated that he only featured for the national team when others were injured or if cover at full back was required. That being said, he was still selected for England’s Euro 2004 squad, as well as receiving call-ups for the 2006 and 2010 World Cups.
Now 35, Carragher has lost what little pace he had to begin with and has started to fall out of favour with new Reds boss Brendan Rodgers, who can’t afford to be sentimental after being tasked with building the club’s next great team. For this reason, it seems like the perfect time for Anfield idol to bow out. Carragher is currently on 496 league appearances for Liverpool and barring injury, will likely reach the magic 500 mark by the end of the season. In a time when mercenaries and journeymen are all too common, that’s an achievement that shouldn’t be sniffed at. It would be no exaggeration to say that Carragher has been every bit as influential for the Reds as Steven Gerrard over the past decade and perhaps that is what his career should ultimately be remembered for. Many former team mates and coaches have now tipped Carragher for a career in management, I for one however hope that he doesn’t seek an immediate return to the game; seeing Carra pacing the touchline barking out orders to his team next season would make me feel even older than he has already managed to.