The Jamie Carragher conundrum

Whilst Chelsea’s emphatic romp over Wigan represented this weekend’s most unsurprising occurrence, a startling revelation concerning the make-up of England’s squad for this summer’s World Cup certainly arrived as somewhat of a shock, as news filtered through that Liverpool stalwart Jamie Carragher was set to be named in Fabio Capello’s preliminary 30-man squad. Aside from the mediocrity of Liverpool’s season, the anticipated confirmation of Carragher’s re-emergence from self-imposed international exile (he won the last of his 34 caps in May 2007) is unforeseen given the staunch finality of his initial decision to retire from country commitments. The 32-year-old, who had resisted several previous overtures from Capello and predecessor Steve McClaren, had shown little indication of any desire to return to the England fold, noting in his autobiography in 2008 that, “If I loved playing for my country as much as my club, perhaps the thought of retirement would never have occurred to me. That it did shows me I made the right call. I wasn’t giving up my football career or my ambitions. Only England.”

Eyebrows have been raised across the country, with detractors questioning whether the 2005 Champions League winner is deserving of a berth in England’s squad for the World Cup. The man’s pedigree is unquestionable, but does he warrant a seat on the flight to South Africa this summer?

Following the release of his 2008 autobiography, Jamie Carragher was widely derided for frank admissions about his feelings towards the national team. Speaking of a missed penalty against Portugal in England’s 2006 quarter-final defeat to Portugal, Carragher admitted that “[he] would rather miss for England than Liverpool”. Carragher was widely criticised for this and similar remarks, with many appalled by his ‘downplaying’ of the significance and importance of representing one’s country.

In addition to his outspoken national team sentiments, many have been baffled at Carragher’s inclusion after a season where his Liverpool side have lost eleven games in the Premier League alone. Whilst Liverpool’s failures are attributable to myriad reasons, the demise of a once-watertight defence, of which Carragher is a big part of, has been a key contributory factor. Given that Capello supposedly selects players based on form, his decision to select a player who is widely perceived to have had a bad season has prompted some disbelief. As a Liverpool fan, I can think of many central defenders whose form of 2009/10 has trumped that of our number 23, with Ryan Shawcross, Gary Cahill, Michael Dawson and Phil Jagielka all unlucky to be overlooked in favour of Carragher.

However, Capello is a wise man and certainly wouldn’t have considered recalling Carragher without good reason. It is clear that the Italian has issues concerning the make-up of his defence this summer, with the fitness of captain Rio Ferdinand and Ledley King an ongoing concern. Whilst Carragher’s critics will argue the case for Shawcross et al to be included as cover for the centre-back positions, it is evident that none of these players come anywhere close to matching the invaluable big-game experience that the Liverpool man has. With over 600 appearances for Liverpool and 34 caps, it is clear that Carragher has a wealth of top-level experience. Through the course of his Champions League jaunts with Liverpool Carragher has built up plenty of experience of facing and nullifying some of the world’s top attacking talents, having successfully curbed the threats of the likes of Ronaldinho, Messi and Ibrahimovic. In addition to this, Carragher has consistently proved his ability for a period of five to six years, embodying the notion of “class being permanent and form being temporary”. The likes of Dawson and Shawcross have yet to enjoy such vast sustained periods of top form, with Capello clearly aware of this.

Carragher’s versatility has also helped to endear himself to Capello more than his defensive ‘rivals’. Whilst the 32-year-old is more accustomed to the role of centre-back, he is more than capable of filling in at right-back should club team-mate Glen Johnson be struck down by injury. The selection of Carragher means that two positions in England’s defence will be covered, freeing up invaluable space for Capello to select an extra midfielder or forward.

It might be fair to say that Carragher was the recipient of an unnecessarily harsh backlash following the release of his autobiography, where he stated that, “defeats while wearing an England shirt never hurt me in the same way as losing with my club. I wasn’t uncaring or indifferent. I simply didn’t put England’s fortunes at the top of my priority list. Losing felt like a disappointment rather than a calamity”. Far from failing to care about representing his country, Carragher was merely being honest about his feelings, feelings that are probably harboured by several other players within the international fold. Can John Terry honestly say that any feelings of failure at international level have been as tragic for him personally as his failure to convert THAT penalty in Moscow? Probably not.

Only time will tell whether Capello’s decision to select Jamie Carragher will be vindicated, but until this occurs, it’s likely that the decision will fail to garner nationwide acclaim. Accused of a blatant lack of patriotism, many will question the decision to select a man so vocal about his preference for club loyalties.

For those mocking Carragher’s selection upon the issue of ‘form’, I point you towards the inevitable inclusion of John Terry, Rio Ferdinand and Steven Gerrard – these three players have clearly been plagued by bouts of patchy form and fitness issues throughout the course of the domestic season, yet all are guaranteed a seat on the plane to South Africa. What does seem apparent is that Capello is placing great importance upon the presence of ‘leaders’ at South Africa, with the aforementioned trio and Chelsea vice-captain Frank Lampard all set to feature heavily at the World Cup. The passionate and single-minded Carragher clearly belongs within this camp. As an experienced man of unquestionable integrity (a virtue that is hard to find amongst modern professional footballers), I firmly believe that Jamie Carragher deserves his place in England’s squad this summer.

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