VALENTINE’S Day came a week early for Jamie Carragher.
Rarely can a retirement announcement have been greeted by such an outpouring of respect and yes, love, for a football player than that which followed his decision to call time on his playing career.
‘Legend’ is one of those words used far too loosely in the context of football, but what other description befits a man who played over 700 games for one club, gave his all in every single one of them, and more than anyone else embodies the phrase ‘fan on the pitch’?
That connection with a club’s supporters, commonplace in days of old, has been stretched to breaking point at the top level of the game as stratospheric salaries and supercars insulate our top footballers from the reality of everyday life.
Few would level such an accusation at Jamie Carragher.
To really understand and appreciate Jamie, I urge those of you who have not read his autobiography to do so.
It’s simply one of the best football books I’ve ever read, certainly the best by any Liverpool player past or present.
Honesty and pride bursts from every page, eschewing false modesty and the anodyne platitudes about contemporaries that send most books of this kind to the remainder bin as quick as you can say ‘Wayne Rooney’. His indignation at being second choice centre-back at one time behind Igor Biscan is particularly candid and amusing, and his frustration at Gerard Houllier’s constant reassurance while signing a succession of prospective replacements is both genuine and refreshing.
It’s easy to forget that Jamie has not always been a constant fixture in the side despite his 700 plus appearances, and has been shunted round defensive positions.
During Houllier’s reign there was a feeling abroad, to which I remember subscribing myself, that while he was a reliable club man and a useful utility player, he was not quite first choice material and we needed better footballers in the full-back positions. We got the likes of Ziege and Xavier – enough said.
Of course it was only once he became established in his true position at the centre of the defence that he began to get the praise he deserved.
Even now some of the tributes paid to him over the last week have felt it necessary to question his technique, as though every other centre-half in the country during his time was a ringer for Franz Beckenbauer.
Similar comments were made on Brendan Rodgers’ arrival, doubting that Carra would fit into his passing style of football.
Such comments are both misguided and insulting to a player with 38 caps and a host of domestic and European medals.
From my seat near the front of the Lower Centenary I’ve been privileged to get a close-up view of Jamie’s commitment, his organisational abilities, and the haranguing of team-mates he considered to be under-performing.
He’s even given the odd blast to those in the crowd who’ve sought to berate him. Most of all I’ll remember his indefatigable, backs-to-the-wall performances in European away ties, of which Istanbul was just one of many. Thanks Jamie.