The 34-year-old centre-back has been a fantastic servant to the club during his 17 years playing for the first-team, but he’s increasingly starting to resemble a player out of his depth and old Father Time appears to be catching up with. Of course, his knowledge of the game and willingness to learn make him an ideal candidate for a big coaching future at the club, but in terms of the impact that he can have out on the pitch, his name on the teamsheet is now met with as many groans as it is cheers and it may time for the side to move on without him.
We cannot underestimate what a good player Carragher has been for the club and during Liverpool’s run to the 2005 Champions League final, he was quite simply a colossus against the likes of Barcelona and Juventus before another exceptional display in the final against heavy favourites AC Milan. The commitment with which he plays is without peer, but that alone isn’t enough to warrant a first-team place, particuarly in light of Daniel Agger’s recent injury.
While the Dane doesn’t look like he’s going to be out for as long as first feared, with his representative Per Steffensen telling jp.dk: “There is good news. He has not torn ligaments. He has a small rupture behind the knee and it has swollen and sore but once the swelling goes down he can train again” Carragher is the next logical player in the pecking order, simply because of his experience, although Sebastian Coates’ selection against Manchester City to counter their strength from set-pieces did indicate that it’s a lot closer than previously assumed.
It’s not like Carragher has ever relied on pace and that now, shorn of it he is all of a sudden a much worse player, it’s that his body simply isn’t as quick as his mind anymore and he can’t get himself into as good starting positions like he used to. He looks more easily rattled than he was in the past, which is inevitable when you are in and out of the side like he is these days.
The only way to see whether he’s up to the mark still is to give him a concerted run in the side, but after such a poor start to the season, with the side still chasing a first league win of the campaign, can they afford to grant him this sort of opportunity? He did little to show during a nervy performance in the Europa League against Young Boys that he should be given one and it looks like he struggles with the sort of movement in and around the box that he used to cope with so well.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers told reporters last week: “For me this is the hardest part of my job – he(Carragher) is the hardest part of my job, because every day of his life he comes in and he gives his all. He works himself to a standstill every day of his life. And guys like that I want to put in the team when it matters. The Europa League matters of course, but every player wants to play in the Premier League on Sunday. And that is the most difficult decision I have as the manager of Liverpool – seeing him every day give his life to the club as hard as he does and then not being able to give him a shirt in the starting 11 at the weekend. I heard these stories about him kicking the ball long up the pitch, but this is one of the best technical players we have – left foot, right foot, touch on the ball, reading of the game, tactical intelligence, he has it all. I think he can play on, there is no doubt.”
The argument is not whether he could play on, but rather should he play on; after all, why did the club fork out the best part of £7m on a player with a burgeoning reputation within the game like Coates if they had no intention of playing him when situations like the one with Agger’s injury arose?
This is far from a cry for him to retire, he’s not quite at the embarrassing levels that forced Gary Neville into the Sky Sports studios just yet, but his involvement has to be reserved for games where the side feels they can pick up a result with or without him in the side. The thought of him playing against Manchester United, Arsenal or Chelsea in his current state is not the most palatable and he should be regarded as fourth-choice now and for all we know, maybe he already is.
He still has a valuable role to play at the club, teaching the next generation and passing n his experience; he’s a role model, someone to look up to, a player that has got every last inch of talent out of his body and had an exceptional career doing it, but we shouldn’t let our acknowledgement of the player he once was distort our view of the player he now unfortunately is. That may sound harsh to some, but take the emotion away and from a purely footballing perspective, he simply doesn’t have all that much to contribute anymore out on the pitch.
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