Monday 14 October 2019

'There's no harm in stepping away – I love the game too much to let it eat me up'

Chris Bascombe

Jamie Carragher is back where it all began. Marsh Lane, Bootle. The haunts of his youth either side of him: the Brunswick Youth Club ('the Brunny'), the Salisbury Pub ('the Solly') and his former primary school, St James' (now All Saints) are within 100 yards.

There is always something comforting, reassuringly familiar about him being here, his presence acknowledged by passers-by like a family member making one of his frequent visits home.

In three weeks' time, Carragher will add two other venues to the nostalgia trail. Melwood and Anfield. He will play his last game and consign Liverpool – temporarily at least – to the past.

There remains some disbelief it is happening. Others mapped out a different future, channelling the spirit of the Anfield bootroom, a seamless transition from pitch to dugout, Carragher (below) fulfilling his potential as an emblem of the FA's fast-track system for aspirational coaches.

A discussion about joining Brendan Rodgers' back-room staff was cut short last summer, Carragher instead focusing on his final season as a player.

Trevor Brooking's request for Carragher, capped 38 times by England, to join the England U-20s World Cup coaching team was declined, the need for a clean break from the game taking precedence.

Instead, punditry beckons, Carragher now admitting he had never felt entirely comfortable with the path envisaged on his behalf.

"If you'd asked me at the start of my career, I would have said I was going to be a manager," he says. "I may still be in future, but there seemed to be an expectation it was a natural progression for me. Just because I love football, it doesn't necessarily mean I'm desperate to manage."

Carragher has seen some of the greatest coaches of his generation overburdened with pressure. Inevitably, it has left its mark.

"The two managers I worked under longest are Gerard Houllier and Rafa Benitez," he says. "I have so much respect for the two of them. I would argue with anyone they did good jobs at Liverpool given what they won, and they both certainly helped me.

"But what I would also say is the fella who walked in the door was not the same fella who walked out. A lot of that has to do with the job. You see people every day, how they look and how setbacks impact on them.

"I take defeats as badly as anyone. People close to me could always see how devastated I feel. For managers, it is even worse with more repercussions.

"They have that grind every day; then those press conferences before and after games when you're feeling and looking at your worst, vulnerable to coming across the wrong way. You see some managers years later and they still seem bitter about their experiences.

"For me football is a game to be loved, to be enjoyed. You will have ups and downs, but I see in some managers how the game has eaten them up. I love the game too much to let that happen to me."

When Rodgers arrived at Anfield a back-room job was deliberated. "I had a good chat with the manager when he joined the club, about his ideas and tactics, and he mentioned the possibility of being part of his staff," Carragher adds.

"When we spoke again a few weeks later we agreed I should focus on being a player. I don't like the player-coach idea. I don't think it works. You're either one or the other, taking part in a training session or organising it.

"A few years ago I was testing myself with the coaching courses. Last summer was the same with media work. I enjoyed both, but I felt really suited to the punditry. I loved being around football people talking about the game at a major tournament."

constraints

Steven Gerrard observed this week that he thinks, privately, Carragher is relishing the chance to escape the constraints of Anfield, which, while fulfilling so many ambitions, also brings particular toils.

"There's something to that," Carragher said. "It does take something out of you and the idea of just stepping away does no harm.

"There are times I've felt Stevie and myself have been taken for granted, but we've also appreciated what we've had here and not wanted it any other way. Now and again it's good to get that sense of how people outside the city and even the country see you."

In the final passages of his autobiography, Carragher paraphrased the sentiments of his favourite Beatles song 'In My Life'. "I'll never lose affection for those places I remember," he wrote.

A vibrant Liverpool career is entering those realms of wistful reminiscence. By ensuring it is he, not the club, hastening the process, he follows the trend of the last famous son of Bootle to depart Anfield.

"I remember when Roy Evans left Liverpool," says Carragher, sentiment finally penetrating the conversation. "He said he did not want to be a ghost on the wall. I've always thought about that, the dignity he showed when he left.

"I will be sad to go, but for the good of everyone trying their best for the club, I don't want to be hanging around." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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