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Monday, 16 February 2004

621: Unsung heroes: Jamie Carragher

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by : Chris Owens

Michael Owen, Gerrard, Kewell, Finnan, Baros, Hamman, Kirkland - all cited by Gerard Houllier and many Liverpool fans as the reason for their struggles this season. Not that they've played badly, but because they have spent large chunks of time on the treatment table. Another of the walking wounded at Anfield very rarely got mentioned in amongst all the 'superstars', but it's no coincidence that his return has coincided with an upturn in fortunes in recent games - take a bow Jamie Carragher.

Carragher is the type of player fans easily forget, but also the type of player fans love - a local lad, brought up through the ranks, 100% committed, and will play anywhere for the good of the team. You can have world-class players in your side, but without the 'unsung heroes' no team would function successfully. Manchester United may have had their Cantonas and Van Nistelrooys, but home-grown grafters such as Butt and the Nevilles have been instrumental in their domination. At Highbury, Bergkamp, Henry etc. wouldn't have been able to play such 'fantasy football' without Adams, Dixon and Parlour doing the donkey-work.

Since marking his Premiership debut with a goal versus Aston Villa at Anfield in 1996, Bootle-born Carragher has proved himself to be 'Mr. Versatile', slotting into either full-back role, filling in at centre-half, or even anchoring the midfield. Whilst the more unkind observers would say he plays as if he gets a nosebleed once in the opposition half, there's no doubt defensively he is one of the most difficult customers to come across in the country. Strong in the air, solid in the tackle and positional sense to make up for a slight lack of pace, 'Carra' is a something of a throw-back to an era where full-backs' primary role was to defend, unlike contemporaries like Roberto Carlos, Cafu and Ashley Cole marauding down the wing with gay abandon.

Despite being a long-standing under-21 captain, and holding the record for under-21 caps for England, Carragher has only made fleeting appearances in the national side. His 9 caps have mainly come in the ritual 'substitution-fests' also know as Sven-Goran Eriksson-managed friendlies. A possible trip to the World Cup in Korea and Japan was thwarted by injury. Whilst his versatility may hamper his international hopes, as he doesn't hold down a regular position, on the other hand he could turn this to his advantage. With defensive cover options seeming to include the likes of Mills, Johnson and even Antony Gardner, Carragher's name may yet pop up in the Euro 2004 squad.

Whilst his performances on the pitch cannot be questioned, there are a couple of notorious skeletons in Carragher's closet. With the recent case of Alan Smith throwing bottles back into the crowd, lest we forget that 'Carra' picked up a three match ban for impetuously chucking a coin back into the crowd at Highbury during a 1-0 FA cup defeat back in 2002. More shocking were the tabloid tales of his antics at the Liverpool Christmas party in 1998, where he drunkenly 'performed' on stage with a group of strippers.

However, I'm sure Koppites can forgive these rare indiscretions. The once formidable Liverpool rearguard has looked decidedly shaky this season without Carragher's combative presence. But his recovery from the broken leg sustained as a result of Lucas Neill's viscous early audition for Tarantino blockbuster 'Kill Bill' up at Ewood Park has resulted in the old firm of Henchoz, Hyypia and Carragher coming back together, starting to keep clean sheets once again.

Whilst Houllier has prematurely stated too many times that he has found the 'final piece of his Championship winning jigsaw' - remember Christian Zeige & El-Hadji Diouf - Carragher is one piece of the jigsaw he cannot afford to lose.

Chris Owens

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