Saturday 17 August 2019

Jamie Carragher: 'I want Liverpool to win the league - but there's certainly no media conspiracy against City'


I could scarcely imagine writing a negative word about Pep, who may eventually be recognised as the finest coach of all time. Photo: PA
I could scarcely imagine writing a negative word about Pep, who may eventually be recognised as the finest coach of all time. Photo: PA

Jamie Carragher

Pep Guardiola claims the English media is desperate for Manchester City to slip up and for Liverpool to win the Premier League.

Having built my post-playing career as a TV and newspaper pundit, I can only speak personally about such an accusation and say this: Pep is right if he is including me in his list. I am desperate for Liverpool to lift the title. I doubt this is a startling revelation. I played 737 games for Liverpool so it would be as pointless pretending where my allegiance lies as it would my colleague Gary Neville, or any former player working in the media affiliated to a particular club.

But, as with Gary, this does not mean we look upon our former teams less critically, or speak more harshly about others. In fact, it is the exact opposite. The praise for City's performances over the past two seasons has been unequivocal and the most lavish I have directed at an English team or their coach.

Should they defend their championship tomorrow, they will be on course to achieve what I predicted on these pages on the opening weekend of the season - to become one of the greatest club teams English football has seen.

If Liverpool do not win the title, it is because of one club. Look at what City's triumph over Liverpool at the Etihad achieved. As things stand, Leroy Sane's winning goal has stopped Liverpool lifting the title, potentially collecting 100 points and becoming the new 'Invincibles'. Jurgen Klopp's side have been close to perfection and City are still one point better.

I could scarcely imagine writing a negative word about Guardiola, who is fulfilling my expectation of eventually being recognised as the finest coach of all time. His influence extends beyond Barcelona or Manchester City. Wherever you watch football today, there are coaches seeking to replicate elements of his style.

They cannot completely copy it, but the club game has never been more attractive. Look at how Champions League teams play to attack now, pressing high and pursuing a higher-intensity, productive game. There are more idealistic coaches demanding their sides play with adventure rather than defensively. That is Pep's influence on this generation.

So, when I read comments about the media favouring Klopp and Liverpool - and it is not the first time such remarks have been made this season - it bemuses me and makes me query how and why such paranoia exists. Supporters cite the number of former Liverpool and Manchester United players working as pundits as evidence of bias, so naturally I feel I am a part of that. Ironically, this is sometimes a complaint of Liverpool and United managers.

Jose Mourinho often made withering comments about the 'Class of '92' and, when I was still playing, I once walked into a meeting room and saw Gerard Houllier compiling a list of former Kop idols in media roles, seeing it as an undermining force. "Does it really matter?" I asked, little realising where my future lay.

Ask those managers what bothered them and it was their belief the criticism was more ferocious from those with an emotional attachment. They are right.

There is no one more critical or outspoken when United fail than Gary Neville. It hurts him and he shows it, unwilling to hold back because he speaks with heart, head and authority on his club, capturing the mood of fans. That is why videos of his most scathing assessments go viral.

That is something I have experienced. When Liverpool fall below their standards - as they did under Brendan Rodgers in 2015 - there was no one offering more negative analysis than me. I strongly criticised Liverpool's owners when they messed up on ticket pricing three years ago, and their recruitment team when they made a series of poor signings. This season, Liverpool have lost one league game. How and why would anyone speaking about the club be negative about that? City want more of their own players working in broadcasting to balance the influence of former Liverpool and United players. As their title winners retire, this will be a natural progression and in Vincent Kompany they have someone who can make that transition.

When that happens, it might not always go exactly as their press office imagines.

In the past three seasons, City have been knocked out of the Champions League by Monaco, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, clubs they should have overcome.

The mainstream media reaction was fairly muted. There was no damning verdict about under-performance. Would a former City player, infuriated by the fact it was not Barcelona or Real Madrid ending his team's European ambitions, show more fury about those results in the immediate aftermath? I suspect they would.

I make no apologies for my love of Liverpool. My only concession to criticism this season is shouting about Mohamed Salah being a "little dancer" when Liverpool's winning goal went in against Tottenham. It was in the heat of the moment and - in retrospect - I fully understand those who think it too partisan. But it was a winning goal in the last minute of a pivotal game in the title race. Emotions run high.

City know why Liverpool and United get so much coverage. It is because of their global reach. Whether the story is positive or negative, people want to read about them. In the social-media age, they will always get the clicks, so editors will demand to know every detail. Rival fans have been lapping up the despair of United supporters and have spent much of this season wanting the wheels to come off Liverpool's title bid. There is as much fascination beyond Anfield and Old Trafford.

"Ask yourself, 'What is the story?'" my Sky bosses told me when I began to work there.

This year, Liverpool's quest to end their 29 years to be champions inevitably fascinates the world. In 2014, the story of Steven Gerrard's slip against Chelsea was bigger than City winning the title. Did Liverpool want the coverage to be dominated by that? It is not favouritism. It is the news.

If City believe more prominence is given to Klopp and his squad, they ought to ask themselves if they make their manager and players as accessible as Liverpool.

Regardless of whether it is an encouraging or depressing era, Liverpool do not need to work especially hard to guarantee daily coverage but - in my experience since working in the media - are proactive doing so. Other clubs barely let their manager speak beyond the weekly press conference and protect their players from any interviews beyond club media. There is no point any club complaining about lack of coverage while offering minimal help or imagination to guarantee or increase it.

When the final whistle blows, the winners will receive all the plaudits they deserve. It will not be tainted by bias, only recognition of a truly exceptional performance. On a personal level, it would be ridiculous of me to pretend I do not want a final twist.

Professionally, I will have no hesitation acknowledging the scale of Manchester City's achievement as they reinforce their dominance of English football. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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