‘I was ter­ri­fied of life with­out foot­ball when I first stopped play­ing’

Jamie Car­ragher talks to Paul Hayward about his chances of coach­ing at Liver­pool, be­com­ing a top pun­dit, why the game needs lead­ers, and join­ing The Daily Tele­graph

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Football -

English foot­ballers are of­ten ac­cused of not want­ing to know any­thing about the me­chan­ics of their game. Jamie Car­ragher wants to know ev­ery­thing: an ob­ses­sion that be­gan in child­hood, drove him through an il­lus­tri­ous one-club ca­reer and shapes his pun­ditry. If the game ap­pointed a pro­fes­sor of anal­y­sis, they would in­ter­view him first.

Car­ragher, who this week joins The Daily Tele­graph as a foot­ball colum­nist, con­nects an older Premier League era, in which strong char­ac­ters and club loy­alty were to the fore, with the dig­i­tal age of mass opin­ion, in which su­per­stars move around for £100mil­lion-plus trans­fer fees. All the while he is stay­ing true to his ex­pe­ri­ence and deep knowl­edge of the game, ac­crued not only from 508 top-flight ap­pear­ances for Liver­pool and 38 Eng­land caps but a fiercely aca­demic in­ter­est in what he sees.

The in­quis­i­tive­ness was there from the start. “When I was a kid I would al­ways be think­ing like a man­ager, who we should buy, who we should sell – as an Ever­ton fan or a Liver­pool player,” he says. “I was lis­ten­ing to man­agers a lot. And in my twen­ties I was one hun­dred per cent go­ing to be a man­ager. One hun­dred per cent. I started get­ting my coach­ing badges at 31 or 32 when I re­tired from Eng­land.”

This smooth path to man­age­ment veered off in an­other di­rec­tion, to the ben­e­fit of Sky TV’S foot­ball au­di­ence and now read­ers of Tele­graph Sport.

Car­ragher, 39, says he “dipped his toes” into broad­cast­ing with ITV’S cov­er­age of Euro 2012 and then jumped in after the pos­si­bil­ity of an as­sis­tant man­ager’s role with Bren­dan Rodgers at Liver­pool fiz­zled out.

Only An­field could tempt him away from his cur­rent me­dia work. “Maybe be­ing asked to be in­volved with the first team at Liver­pool and help­ing a man­ager. Steven Ger­rard – who knows. And even then it’s not guar­an­teed I would do it, be­cause I re­ally love what I’ve got at this mo­ment.”

What he has is an in­de­fati­ga­ble urge to watch, un­der­stand and ex­plain the game as he sees it.

“I love the de­tail of foot­ball, be­cause I think there’s a lot more to it than 22 play­ers kick­ing a ball around a pitch,” he says.

“De­tail fas­ci­nated me when I was a kid; I must say I watched ev­ery foot­ball show even when I was a player and I al­ways felt I could add a lit­tle bit more than just say­ing ‘that’s a great goal’ – well, where did it come from? Where did it start?

“I read al­most ev­ery paper in the morn­ing, watch ev­ery game on TV. Hav­ing so­cial me­dia makes you feel like foot­ball just keeps get­ting big­ger and big­ger. When I was a kid, I could tell you who the best ten­nis play­ers were, the best golfers, Olympians, whereas now it feels like ev­ery­thing is about foot­ball.”

Sport is pep­pered with former play­ers seek­ing pur­pose, mean­ing, once the lights have dimmed, but Car­ragher never waited for bore­dom and iso­la­tion to claim him.

An in­tense, com­mit­ted and highly ver­bal de­fender who won the Cham­pi­ons League, two FA Cups and three League Cups in 17 years at Liver­pool, he has found in pun­ditry and col­umn-writ­ing a way to main­tain his pas­sion with­out the ex­tremes of win­ning and los­ing that some­times took him to “the gut­ter”.

He says: “The best feel­ing for me with foot­ball was get­ting back to the dress­ing room when you’ve just won. You’re with your man­ager and the play­ers and you’re think­ing about what you’ve achieved.

“I miss those mo­ments, but foot­ball is full of ups and downs and now my life is much more like that [he makes a straight line ges­ture with hand] and that’s some­thing I like. When I played poorly, and there was a lot of that, I’ll never for­get it. That could take me to the gut­ter some­times. That was a hard place for three or four days then. Es­pe­cially be­ing a lo­cal player at your own club, it was hard, so that’s def­i­nitely some­thing I don’t miss.”

Man­ag­ing the dis­tress of los­ing or play­ing badly be­came no eas­ier with time. “I spoke to a sports psy­chol­o­gist about it and said:

‘When I was a kid I was al­ways think­ing like a man­ager, who should we buy, who we should sell’

‘How can I stop feel­ing like this con­stantly if things aren’t go­ing well?’ Not even just per­son­ally but if the team wasn’t per­form­ing well. And it’s only re­ally when I thought – well, I can’t change it, so in some ways I’m go­ing to have to em­brace it and think, ‘that’s ac­tu­ally what’s made me the player I am’. I had such a fear of fail­ure it just drove me on, even though it would take me to some dark places at times.”

The dark places were out­num­bered by sun­lit up­lands, even if the Premier League ti­tle eluded the great Ger­rard-car­ragher lo­cal hero duo, who can count the as­ton­ish­ing Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal come­back in Is­tan­bul in 2005 as a com­forter. Rafael Ben­itez’s 2008-2009 side were the best Car­ragher played in.

“I think that could be one of the best teams that never won the league,” he says. “You think of that team, the spine of the team. I think we were a bit short in the wide ar­eas com­pared to Manch­ester United. They had [Cristiano] Ronaldo, we had Dirk Kuyt and Al­bert Riera. Kuyt did a great job over the years but we just didn’t have a Ronaldo. But you think about what we had go­ing through the mid­dle. Pepe Reina – great keeper, [Fer­nando] Tor­res, Ger­rard, [Xabi] Alonso. We were a top, top side but un­for­tu­nately we came up against a United side of [Sir Alex] Fer­gu­son and Ronaldo.”

Re­call­ing Car­ragher’s play­ing days, the in­ter­viewer’s mem­ory con­jures images of a type sel­dom seen these days in the Premier League. So the temp­ta­tion is al­ways to ask him about the sup­posed lead­er­ship deficit in to­day’s game.

There is a drop-off, he agrees. “And that’s not me try­ing to blow my own trum­pet, it’s a John Terry or a Roy Keane we’re miss­ing,” he says. “And I think it might be across so­ci­ety. When you see kids play­ing now, you don’t see it. When I see my son play I say ‘talk’ be­cause you’ll have such a head start on ev­ery­one else be­cause no one does it any more.

“And it’s not that you’re try­ing to tell peo­ple what to do. There’s an el­e­ment of that, but you’re also talk­ing to them to help your­self. If some­one else is in the right po­si­tion, then I get to do less. I don’t want to be ex­posed or caught out be­tween dif­fer­ent play­ers, or on my own. Just make sure we’re all where we need to be and we’re switched on.

“When I watch Liver­pool now, I wish some­one would just talk, or­gan­ise. Lapses in concentration are just nipped in the bud.”

Car­ragher agrees how­ever that some lead by ex­am­ple, and picks out Harry Kane. “What I love about Harry,” he says, “is not even what I see on the pitch. It’s

‘When I watch Liver­pool now I just wish some­one would talk, or­gan­ise’

‘We’ve al­ways crit­i­cised Wenger for say­ing top four is an achieve­ment but it is now’

the men­tal­ity in the eyes. You know that lad is so fo­cused, noth­ing is go­ing to get in the way of him break­ing records and do­ing things. And I think he’s the kind of player who will look at mile­stones and re­ally ob­sess [about them]. Is he the top scorer in the league? And I think that fo­cus and de­ter­mi­na­tion gets you places.

“Abil­ity-wise, he’s a top player. But there are many top strik­ers in the Premier League. What that lad has done, though, com­ing from Tot­ten­ham and peo­ple not think­ing he was quite good enough, go­ing on loan, I think he’s an ex­am­ple we should be us­ing, and will be us­ing, in academies for 10, 20, 30 years, be­cause I think he’s go­ing to go a long way and end up some­where great.”

Car­ragher ad­mits to still grav­i­tat­ing past artistry some­times to “a great de­fen­sive per­for­mance”, and wishes there were more of them. And he is not prone to stuck-in-the-past syn­drome. With the ex­tra spend­ing power and com­pet­i­tive­ness at the pin­na­cle, he is more tol­er­ant of a top-four place be­ing a tar­get in it­self. “We’ve al­ways crit­i­cised [Arsene] Wenger for say­ing top four is an achieve­ment, but I think it is now,” he says.

“Cer­tainly for Tot­ten­ham, Liver­pool and Arse­nal. They’re prob­a­bly go­ing for po­si­tion rather than the ti­tle. Maybe not Tot­ten­ham, I’m prob­a­bly do­ing them a dis­ser­vice say­ing that. But it was al­ways a top four when we played and you knew in a stan­dard sea­son you’d make the Cham­pi­ons League. It would be Manch­ester United and Arse­nal go­ing for the league and it would be us and Chelsea or us and New­cas­tle or Leeds go­ing for the other two po­si­tions. So now there’s more of a top six, if you fin­ish out­side of those top four places, it’s go­ing to feel like a night­mare sea­son. “And with these su­per­star man­agers we now have, I think if you of­fered them one league win in three or four sea­sons of be­ing here, I think they would prob­a­bly take that.”

No longer ter­ri­fied of “sit­ting in the house all day and watch­ing day­time TV” when his ca­reer fin­ished, Car­ragher has found a fresh rai­son d’être for the sec­ond half of his life. He says: “I’d never want to not be ob­sessed with foot­ball – be­cause that’s when I’d start wor­ry­ing.”

Tri­umphant: Jamie Car­ragher in Is­tan­bul in 2005 (left) and in his Eng­land days (right)

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