Liverpool vice-captain Jamie Carragher’s contract expires at the end of the season, and after admitting that he was considering retirement, his manager Brendan Rodgers attempted to emphasis that the veteran defender still had a role to play in the side – with that in mind, is he deserving of a new deal or is it time for the club to move on?
Firstly, it would be wrong to just take a casual look at Carragher’s age and write him off regardless, especially as his contribution to the tune of 720 senior appearances warrants him a chance to have his case presented for him; his is a one-club man and has been both a fantastic player and loyal servant, adjusting to the chaos around him at times and marking himself out as a player of real character, firmly established in the club’s history.
The 34-year-old has made nine league appearances so far and 21 across all competitions. It’s worth noting that eight of those league outings came off the bench but he has featured nine times in Europe this season, playing in five of the Europa League group games. At the moment, he is an essential part of Brendan Rodgers’ squad whenever he wants to rotate it and keep his starting eleven fresh. He is no longer first-choice, but neither was Sami Hyypia in his final season at Anfield, yet he still made a useful contribution to Rafa Benitez’s side back in 2008-9 as the club were pipped to the title by Manchester United, making 16 Premier League outings. Every squad needs that depth.
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The sort of experience that Carragher has gleaned over the years is absolutely essential at the moment with the squad being so young and small. He has played at every top flight ground plenty of times, is familiar with the expectations of the club, the fans and everything that comes with representing Liverpool; he’s used to pressure and every sort of situation and environment imaginable. Is it really worth throwing all of that away?
Of course there are doubts about whether he can seriously contribute consistently in the league, and his performances towards the end of last term under Kenny Dalglish were not pretty to watch, with his lack of pace proving a particular problem, particularly as it means the side has to defend that much deeper so that he isn’t caught out on the break with the ball played in behind.
In Rodgers’ preferred 4-3-3 system, with the full-back’s bombing on, it’s essential to have two centre-backs comfortable running towards their own goal and chasing a striker, something which has never been Carragher’s forte. At the same time, that means that because he never had the quality of pace, that he shouldn’t miss it, but he’s always been a player that’s benefited from a string of games and has notably struggled after coming back from spells out of the side with injury; he’s not the sort that will benefit in the league from being sporadically used and chopped and changed. It’s worked so far in Europe because the pace and flow of the game has been just a few notches slower, but there have still been occasions when he’s floundered.
Carragher told the Daily Express back in December: “There is a chance that I will retire at the end of the season. It is the last season of my contract and the club have not said anything to me yet. I am open-minded, but I would not play on if I was killing the team when I played. I would not be hanging on for money or anything. And I would not go anywhere else. It is Liverpool or nothing for me.”
This prompted Rodgers to respond to reporters last week: “He and I have had loose discussions in terms of where he is at. We spoke before Christmas and decided we’d have a chat after Christmas.
“We had a busy period coming up but there is no doubt I want him to stay as a player because he still has a lot to offer. It is different for defenders as well. The older you get, you are in that firing line at the back and there is no hiding place.
“He has been a pivotal player, a real iconic player for the club — he is still in great condition, he looks after himself.
“He turns out every single day and I’m sure there are days that are difficult for him as a player when you don’t play. But he is a wonderful example to any player, absolutely incredible. And he has still got a few years left in him yet, for sure.”
The 39-year-old boss, only five years Carragher’s senior, is clearly mindful of keeping him involved in some sort of capacity, due to his standing and relationship with the terraces, and he is known to be a real footballing fanatic, who looks destined to move into coaching and management when he does eventually hang up his boots, bursting full of ideas and brimming with knowledge.
He can certainly still contribute in one way or another and he’s accepted his position in the pecking order, but Rodgers hit the nail on the head by referring to the ‘no hiding place’ line with defenders and that’s why it’s so different to the arrangement that both Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes have at Old Trafford – they are rarely exposed in quite the same way Carragher has been at times, seemingly benefiting from the rotation policy rather than being hindered by it.
Nevertheless, the club’s closely-fought 2-1 victory over Mansfield during the FA Cup third round saw Carragher in his best light and displayed that what he does still has to offer far outweighs all of the negatives at this point in time – leadership. Luckily for the team, the news that dominated the headlines was Luis Suarez’s handball that led to the second and eventually winning goal, as it completely distracted attention away from what a terrible second half performance Liverpool put together with a fairly senior side against a team 93 places below them in the league pyramid. It was abject, awful and devoid of inspiration, with the midfield just disappearing when the going got tough, wilting under the aerial onslaught, but Carragher held that back four together and they scraped through.
With the jury still firmly out on the cumbersome Sebastian Coates after a string of ropey, error-strewn performances this term as the club’s third-choice centre-back, he hardly inspires confidence should Agger or Skrtel suffer a long-term injury and despite arriving with a burgeoning reputation, the 22-year-old Uruguayan has never really kicked on or improved, unable to break up the Agger-Skrtel axis.
Considering the lack of options available, the tight financial constraints placed on the side in terms of finding a replacement and his decent displays so far this season, Carragher is just about worthy of a new deal to extend his stay at Liverpool into its 18th campaign. It’s not always been crystal clear that he should stay, but with a young squad and new manager at the helm, stability at the moment is absolutely key and letting someone of his stature go without a fight would be a mistake.