Jamie Carragher's commitment, loyalty and sometimes underrated talent has made him a formidable talisman in 16 eventful years at Liverpool
The farewell is typical of Jamie Carragher in so many ways. His obligation to deliver for Liverpool shapes the announcement that an illustrious playing career will cease this summer, and the timing of it. There is no fanfare and no reflections on 16 years that brought two FA Cups, three League Cups, one Uefa Cup and, of course, one unforgettable Champions League triumph.
"Now is not the time for that," he states, before dismissing any moping with: "I won't be making any further comment on this decision until the end of the season; all our focus and concentration should be on achieving the best possible finish in the league this season and trying to win the last remaining trophy we are competing in." Cajoling team-mates and giving everything for the cause until the last; it was ever thus. Liverpool's recent history would have been very different without it.
In many ways the announcement is characteristic of the boy from Bootle who defied the doubters to achieve legendary status at Anfield. There was an inevitability about it too, with the 35-year-old admitting only last month how difficult he found the transition from first-team regular to the bench. And yet confirmation it is all over – or nearly over – carried a dramatic touch, that sense of leave-them-wanting-more, coming as it does on the back of an impressive return to the heart of the Liverpool defence. Carragher may not have planned it that way but the timing of his decision not only safeguards a legacy but heightens concern at what Liverpool are losing on and off the pitch.
Brendan Rodgers knew where to look after losing at Manchester United on 13 January with a "quiet team" short on leaders "to organise". In came Carragher for the 5-0 drubbing of Norwich City and the veteran kept his place at the expense of Martin Skrtel for the 2-2 draws at Arsenal and Manchester City. While marvelling at how Carragher has marshalled an uncertain Liverpool rearguard, the manager made known his discontent with Skrtel. There was little confidence in Sebastián Coates before his afternoon horribilis at Oldham Athletic in the FA Cup. That is three of four central defenders who may have to be replaced this summer.
To borrow from Carragher's retirement statement, now is not the time for that. It is time for Liverpool to savour the last of one man's outstanding service, loyalty and talent; the latter not always recognised beyond Anfield. Being used as a stop-gap by several England managers prompted his initial retirement from international football in 2007, and an infamous telephone call to Talksport when accused of being "a bottler" on air, when his performances as a centre-half under Rafael Benítez deserved better.
It is often forgotten that Carragher had to fight long and hard to secure his place in the Liverpool team before cementing his place in supporters' affections. He was introduced as a goal-scoring midfielder under Roy Evans, right-back and then left-back as Gérard Houllier led Liverpool to a cup treble in 2001. His piercing voice was more audible back then, often on account of telling a detractor at the front of the Main or Centenary Stand where to go.
"Are you worried for your place?" he was asked back then. "You ask me that every summer," came the reply. Vegard Heggem, Rigobert Song, Marcus Babbel, John Arne Riise; there was an expensive threat to Carragher's place before every season. Every season he would adapt, improve, and see them off.
But it was when Benítez identified in Carragher the attributes of an outstanding central defender – not simply strength and commitment but awareness, intelligence and organisation – that his position at Anfield switched from utility to indispensable. His part in Liverpool's 2005 Champions League victory over Milan is as much part of Anfield folklore as Steven Gerrard's. Receiving treatment for cramp one second then, with socks rolled down, denying Kaká and Andriy Shevchenko the next is an abiding memory, although he arguably topped that performance in Istanbul against Juventus in Turin and in the semi-final against Chelsea at Anfield.
Those standards continued long after 2005 and, as his 723rd appearance for Liverpool showed on Sunday at Manchester City, he remains a Premier League defender of sound judgment and rare intuition. He is also a Premier League star the supporter can still identify with, a man at home with his friends and family in Bootle and acutely aware of what Liverpool have given him. A rare breed indeed.