Jamie Carragher: I'd have loved to have won the title at Liverpool but there was always someone better than us
22:04 GMT, 15 September 2012
Sharp: Jamie Carragher spoke about a wide range of subjects
The interview is over and just a photograph remains to be taken. For almost an hour, Jamie Carragher has been talking about his limited future in the game and the reality that he will never now win the Premier League with Liverpool. But as we walk out of the interview room, his eyes are immediately drawn to a television screen at Liverpool’s Melwood Training Ground.
A sombre David Cameron is beginning his statement on the Hillsborough disaster 23 years ago and Carragher is transfixed, as is the receptionist opposite him. No one breaks the silence as we watch the Prime Minister prepare the ground for an historic apology. It is fully five minutes before Carragher breaks off to complete his duties, unnecessarily apologising himself. It is entirely understandable that here, of all places, a club should stand still as the truth about Hillsborough is revealed.
The receptionist says she was just eight years old at the time of the disaster on April 15 1989. Carragher was a little older, 11, and an Everton fan who, on that fateful day, was at the other FA Cup semi-final, at Villa Park. A few hours after our interview, Carragher represented Liverpool Football Club at the city’s Hillsborough vigil, reading out some of the names of the tragedy’s 96 victims.
Earlier he had discussed the disaster and the impact it has had on the club and the city. It was not the reason for our interview but, given the coincidence of meeting on such a momentous day, it was a natural topic.
‘That era was when I started going to watch football and it was actually shocking,’ he recalls. ‘You stood at the front behind the goal and watched the game with a fence six inches from your face. How could you really see the game through these bars’
He admits that, even as a Liverpudlian and a football fan, it has been only in recent years that he has begun to comprehend the enormity of what happened on the day of Liverpool’s semi-final against Nottingham Forest.
‘I was at the other semi-final, the Everton one,’ he says. ‘As a kid, you don’t really understand what happened. As you grow up, you understand a bit more but it’s when you’ve got your own kids and you hear the stories of a family saying, “I sent my child off in the morning and they didn’t come back”, that’s when it hits you. Even if you get justice today, you can never get over that.’
Tragedy: Carragher was watching Everton as events at Hillsborough unfolded
Carragher has the knack of finding the right words. But he is not just the Bootle boy made good, a Liverpool link to a team and a club long since overtaken by globalisation. His charisma allows him to provide leadership and maintain a connection with the fans.
Roaring success: Carragher is determined to make the most of this season
But we may be seeing the last of Carragher, the player, anyway. When he talks about the season ahead, it is almost wistfully. He is in the last year of his contract. There is a chance he will not be offered another.
‘To be honest, I’ve got a year to go,’ he says. ‘I don’t want to think about it too much — even though I do think about it a lot. It might be my last year in football. I just want to enjoy it as much as possible.’
It seems conceivable that he will play for another club. He explains how he never enjoyed watching the Spanish star Raul play for German club Schalke because, he says, ‘it always saddened me when he left Real Madrid. I just thought, “He IS Real Madrid”. It doesn’t look right. It’s special when you’ve played for one team.’
But the prospect of retirement from playing is not a fearful one for Carragher. ‘It doesn’t worry me,’ he says. ‘It’s not that I’m thinking, “Oh I’m devastated about it”. Probably when I stop playing, I’ll feel that a bit more. But when you play for such a big club for so long, it’s intense every single day and I’ve probably had that for 16 or 17 years.
‘I wouldn’t say I’m looking forward to finishing, that would be wrong, but I wouldn’t say I’m terrified about it either. When it does finish I can look back and say, “That was brilliant, that was great.” But being a local lad playing for Liverpool is intense. And it’s not just on match days, it’s every single day. But that’s because of the club you play for and that’s the price of the ticket, that’s what every player wants.
Glee: Carragher shared in the club's triumph the Champions League victory in Istanbul in 2005. But he asks: 'Were we really ever good enough to win the title'
‘At times it can be difficult, especially the last few years when it hasn’t gone well. It’s great when you’re winning, fantastic. When you’re not, it’s the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning and the last thing you think of when you go to bed. People say, “Do you enjoy winning” But sometimes you win a game and you’re just happy that you haven’t got the feeling you have when you lose. It’s a bit like, “Thank **** we haven’t lost”.’
He is reminded how Andy Murray explained that his overwhelming feeling on winning the US Open on Monday was relief. ‘Yeah! Yeah! It’s not joy,’ says Carragher. ‘You’re so happy that you haven’t lost. That’s what it is sometimes. Sometimes when you play for a big club, you’re expected to win, so it’s not a big thing unless it’s a cup final or a massive game against Manchester United or Everton.
‘It’s not so much I’m worried about the Press hammering us. A lot of the time it’s just relief that you haven’t got that sick feeling for a few days.’
Because sportsmen are often not good at confronting home truths, it is tentatively suggested that he is never going to win the league with Liverpool.
Part of the furniture: Carragher joined Liverpool's youth team in 1990
‘No I’m not,’ he responds immediately. ‘Because this could be my last season and we’re not going to win the league this year. I couldn’t see it happening next year either. That’s not being defeatist — I don’t want that to be the headline! But realistically our target is the top four.’
He will, of course, always have
Istanbul, the never-to-be-forgotten night in 2005 when he and Steven
Gerrard led the team to Champions League glory. And there are FA Cup,
Carling Cup, UEFA Cup, UEFA Super Cup winners’ medals and 38 England
caps as well. But it is 22 years and counting since Liverpool’s last
league title, which has been the obsession of the club throughout
Carragher’s career. So does he approach retirement with regrets
and no,’ he says. ‘I’d love to have won the league for Liverpool as
it’s been so long. But were we ever really good enough We never threw
it away. There was always someone better than us.
players who say, “Oh, I’ve won the league three times.” They’ve been at
Chelsea or United but they’re not a regular. They play all over the
place, they come in, they go out. I could do that. I could do that for
Chelsea or United, not a problem.
I’ve been one of the main players for Liverpool, winning the European
Cup, winning the Cup treble. OK, I’m probably jealous of Giggs and
Scholes and their titles and European Cups. But I played for my team my
whole life and I’ve been one of the main players in what we’ve done. I
could have won the league going somewhere else and just playing 25
games. I’m good enough to have won the league. I’m not trying to sound
big-headed but more often than not we’ve had one of the best defensive
records each season.’
Carragher went closest to the title in the 2008-09 season, when Liverpool chased United all the way and were just four points behind United with a better goal difference at the end of the campaign. Three years and three managers later, the gap between the clubs looks more like a chasm. Liverpool’s second place has given way to finishes of seventh, sixth and eighth.
Given the dysfunctional nature of the club under the previous ownership of Americans Tom Hicks and George Gillett, it seems extraordinary that they ever got as close to the title as runners-up, although Carragher partially disagrees.
‘We had a good team then,’ he says. ‘When they (Hicks and Gillett) were there, we bought some good players. Torres came in, we got Mascherano and Skrtel in there. Obviously towards the end the owners wanted to go. The supporters were against them and rightly so, because no one at Liverpool likes to be kidded along. When you see what they said about the stadium and putting the debt on the club, that was the worst thing for me.’
Double act: George Gillett (left) and Tom Hicks and were vilified by Liverpool fans – rightly, according to Carragher, who says: 'No-one likes to be kidded along'
But he cautions persistent critics, drawing a link with the criticism of those past owners and the disappointment that has been expressed recently at the club’s failure to sign a replacement for on-loan striker Andy Carroll in the summer transfer window.
‘Obviously we’re all disappointed. The manager’s disappointed and we’re disappointed as players,’ says Carragher.
‘But we can’t go into the next few games and when we lose go, “Ah, but we’ve got to wait until we get to January and the next window. The results now don’t matter”. They do matter. We’re still a big club, we’ve still got good players, whether we missed out on a striker at the end of the window. That’s tough. Get on with it. Don’t use it as an excuse. I hate people making excuses all the time. It winds me up.’
Carragher speaks with enthusiasm about the arrival of Brendan Rodgers. ‘I’ve loved it,’ he says. ‘Training has been fantastic. He’s a great communicator, a great man-manager.’ But the suggestion the new man’s tactics may not suit Carragher riles him. ‘I get frustrated when people say “Oh, you just put your foot in” or “you’re a great leader or character”. I’m not Xabi Alonso but I can play football, I can pass the ball. I’ve done it my whole life, I’ve played from the back,’ he says.
Still, the scale of Rodgers’s task is clearly considerable. ‘Things have changed from when we were in the top four every year,’ says Carragher. ‘Without being defeatist, you always knew Chelsea and United were going for the league and us and Arsenal were trying to catch them.
‘But as soon as Manchester City got money, it was a reality that eventually they were going to get into the top four. I always thought it would be us or Arsenal who would be going out of the top four. The first time we got that bit of a challenge from City and Tottenham we finished seventh and we’ve just never been able to get back up there.
‘That’s the target now for us, to get back in the top four this season. The way the game is, we’ve got to be careful that this doesn’t go on and on.
‘But listen, great clubs always come back and Liverpool are one of them. Obviously the last few years haven’t been great for us but I don’t think Liverpool will never be back up there.’
And he must be right. Liverpool probably will get back up there eventually. But, sadly, it will in all likelihood be without Jamie Carragher.