Carragher ends a career of proving people wrong

Posted by Kristian Walsh

After 723 appearances for the club, to attempt to cover Jamie Carragher's entire career is the ultimate exercise in futility.

But these words are not an ode to a dimming light in Anfield's constellation. They are not to lament the fall of a great player or deal with the rumours, counter-rumours and character assassinations. They are not even to tell the tale of a phoenix rising from the flames, the thoroughbred's final jump for glory. Not yet, anyway.

This is simply about proving people wrong.

Every time Carragher walks onto a football pitch, he proves somebody wrong. He looks at those people with disdain, he raises a middle finger at them, he adroitly blows venomous snot from his nose in their direction. In a career spent shoving words back down throats, this is his final, unabashed push.

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Even on the day he announces his retirement from football, he proves people wrong. After a return to the starting XI in the past three league games, he had started to win back plenty of those who had lost faith. A contract extension would surely follow for a player who uses football as oxygen, for this was a player who had just breathed new life into his career as the eyes and brain of Brendan Rodgers' defence.

When Rodgers arrived as Liverpool manager, mental lists were made as to who would fit in with the possession-heavy, pressing football extolled by the new manager. The bell tolled 23 times. Carragher was a throwback. He muddied his knees, he threw his body in front of juggernauts, he treated the ball with contempt and launched it forward as soon as possible -- all while wearing black boots.

Few expressed surprise when he appeared under Rodgers in cup competitions, the unspoken acknowledgement of no longer being first choice. His age and style of play brought expectation of little else. Appearances from the substitute bench in league matches were briskly dismissed as a way to add to his impressive haul, second now only to Ian Callaghan.

But after Martin Skrtel and Sebastian Coates failed to deal with strong, savvy strikers for the final time, Rodgers turned to Carragher. The Englishman responded with three fine performances against Norwich, Arsenal and Manchester City.

Nothing drastically changed with Carragher -- he had not suddenly transformed into the Bootle Franz Beckenbauer overnight. He simply brought to the team what he always had done, and what Rodgers' side had been lacking: the defence went from being morose to being marshalled. He still provides organisation, nous and experience, if nothing else. The more strained ears in the stands can hear Carragher's dog-whistle voice shrieking instructions to all.

More than anyone in the Liverpool squad, Carragher has worked to appreciate Rodgers' style of play. As he sat on the bench, he did not fiddle with his tracksuit pants, nor did he crack jokes with fellow substitutes -- he watched. When he got his chance, he tried to keep passes short and keep a higher line. This old dog wanted to be taught new tricks.

Yet now is the time to announce that it is all to end, just when it seemed the defence needed him most, when his renaissance was in its earliest moments.

Consider this his final lunge at the naysayers. The tenacious, red-cheeked, snarling concoction of extremities has done it so many times on the pitch. He's also had to do it off the pitch.

From those watching on the outside, Carragher is the embodiment of Liverpool. He is a hero to the supporters, a legend to the club, an ambassador to the city.

Jamie Carragher salutes the crowd after scoring on his Anfield debut
PA PhotosJamie Carragher salutes the crowd after scoring on his Anfield debut

But this is Liverpool, where the halls of Anfield have seen more politicking than Parliament in recent times. The past few years have seen resentment bubbling towards him. Eyes have rolled as his name is read out in the starting line-up; heavy sighs emitted around the stadium as he waited to come on as substitute.

This rancour is twofold: there is a strong belief he is not the player he used to be. His limbs and lungs no longer stretch as they once did, as Father Time claims another victim. The Carragher of yesteryear, a perfectionist of his trade, would not tolerate his aging self alongside him -- his retirement suggests as much.

But then there is animosity towards Carragher as a man, not as a football player. Some who once sang his name heartily feel he has changed from the doe-eyed teenager who made his debut 16 years ago. Some feel he is not even the man who battled the trio of Hernan Crespo, Kaka and cramp to help his side lift the European Cup in Istanbul.

There has been a legend forming around the legend for years.

Some believe he is an example of how power corrupts, a self-serving bully only interested in his own well-being, a Machiavellian manifestation. A man supposedly complicit in the sacking of Rafael Benitez in 2010, a key player in bringing Roy Hodgson to the club and engineering his own bumper contract extension with Liverpool just a day from administration. He also walks around as a hunchback, locked the princes in the Tower and goes camping on grassy knolls.

The truth is not widely known, but that does not stop the barrage of belligerence.

If Carragher was the type to care what others think, he could take solace in the fact that it probably isn't personal. The fine city of Liverpool's inherent affliction of refusing to enjoy the success of their own rears its ugly head once more. Even Steven Gerrard at his peak had his doubters. Build them up, knock them down. Only the Liver Birds can stand upon their perch without rocks being thrown.

But Carragher does not care. If he did, his only involvement in Istanbul would have been through purchasing a match ticket, for he has been written off too many times to mention. He was told he would never make it at Anfield as a left back, right back, centre back, footballer.

But he did. Not just a footballer, but a European champion. This Colossus will not fall into the Mersey, but remain upright on his own terms. Whether he becomes a coach at Anfield, a manager elsewhere or a television pundit, he will strain every sinew to ensure he is a success.

Some won't believe he can do it. No matter. He will just prove them wrong, too.

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