Jamie Carragher hardly needs any introduction. A local boy done good whose path to greatness began in L20 in Marsh Lane, Bootle. LFChistory.net was fortunate enough to spend a fair bit of time recently with Jamie and his dad, Philly, who is a legend in his own right! We tried to squeeze as many questions in during the time allotted for a formal interview, but this talk hardly does his career justice. If we'd had our own way the interview would have lasted hours, but here is a glimpse into Carra's world.
A Bootle boy
I‘m from an area that‘s very passionate, very competitive and I was like that as a football player. Me dad, me mum, to start with, but also the community I live in, where you go to school, my friends... Everyone was very passionate about Everton and Liverpool. Everything was about football and nothing else. Where you come from shapes you. As you get older and more mature you make your own decisions whether they are right or wrong. Certainly Marsh Lane shaped me a lot.
Your dad was your first football coach.
Yes, he was the manager at Merton Villa. He used to manage the men‘s team when I was really young. When I started playing he dropped down and managed the kids teams. He was successful at both. It was his personality as well. He was very competitive and wanted to win. It was tough love. I was very aggressive and wanted to win. I scored a lot of goals for Bootle Boys when I was 10-11, still in junior school. It was great memories. We won the league, got to the cup final twice, didn‘t quite win the cup final at Goodison. I was centre-forward, lots of goals, but my career didn‘t pan out like that.
You moved eventually further back as you came into the LFC set-up leaving your scoring boots behind.
Yes, I went back to midfield in the youth team and then to centre-back in the 1996 youth cup final. Ronnie Moran suggested I played centre-half as we had some injuries and a suspension in the youth cup final against West Ham. The centre-back was sent off in the semi-final. I went to centre-back and stayed there ever since.
Carragher played midfield in his full debut for Liverpool against Aston Villa at Anfield as Patrik Berger "had the shits" as Carra so vividly describes it. Carragher expected the day before that he was going to play at centre-half but Bjorn Tore Kvarme's clearance came through before 5pm that night. His chances of a full debut were over, but then Berger had his emergency.
Very few players have come through Liverpool‘s youth set-up into the first team in the last few decades. You must have exceptional ability and determination to go through the eye of a needle?
It‘s not just ability, you need mentality, the attitude, the belief that you‘re good enough to perform at that level. It‘s not easy to come through at Liverpool and also stay there my whole career. There are scouts all through the world looking at new players to make the team better. It was tough and enjoyable. Yes, I always believed that I would come through to play at Liverpool. I never knew what type of career I would have and how long it would last. My dream was always to play for Liverpool as long as I could and thankfully I only played for one club.
Did you always have to prove yourself more than the rest of the players?
I think so. I think when you are not a big-money signing, of course they have to prove they‘re worth the money. When you‘re a local player you get taken for granted a little bit. That‘s everywhere you go, really. Not just in football, but any business. They‘re signing players. You have to prove you‘re better than them. I treated every training session like it was a game. I always pushed myself. Some players don‘t do that. Some players use training to be ready for the match.
Ronnie Moran said the coaches noticed who were the most competitive in training... Were you overzealous? I know Ronnie tried to calm Gerrard down when he was starting, but to no avail...
Every day when you‘re a young player, it‘s your own show. Ronnie Moran and Roy Evans know what the first-team players have done. At times you kicked some of the players. It‘s all a part of becoming a player.
Two Jamies. Carragher and Cassidy, who tried to break through at the same time at Liverpool.
Cassidy only made it as far as the bench.
Did you model yourself on one player?
Not really. I was an Everton fan when I was a kid.. Steve McManaman and Robbie Fowler were the local players when I first came into the team. They were the heroes really. They eventually moved on in their mid 20s. I wanted to play for Liverpool as long as I possibly could. There was not really anyone to look at and say: "I want to do what he‘s doing." There are very few players who have stayed at their club for their whole career. I wanted to try to be unique. I‘m one of very few players who have done that.
You have been compared with Gerry Byrne and Tommy Smith who had a similar trajectory in their career. They were tough customers. Did you have to curb your enthusiasm on the field?
Curb your enthusiasm? That‘s a TV show. Larry David. Not really. Of course now in the game you have to be more careful. You can't be playing like the players in the 60s and the 70s. There would be red cards and yellow cards. I was a player who always used my brain on the football pitch. People say I was aggressive but I didn‘t pick up yellow cards or red cards, only every 7th-8th game. I got booked after 20 seconds on my full debut. My game was more than being aggressive. My game was about using me brain, using me head, reading the game, organising people, being in the right position.
You were centre-back but then Houllier moved you to either right-back or left-back, You had so many players try to dislodge you from the team: Song, Babbel, Ziege, Xavier, Finnan, Riise, Kronkamp...You had that Scouse grit and then the continental influence came into the club with Houllier. Was that a good pairing?
Houllier gave me a lot of belief. He was a big fan of the way I played. He picked me every game for 5 or 6 years. He helped a lot off the pitch because we were young players, how you‘re drinking, what you eat, all these things you need to do. There were a lot young players in the squad and sometimes you would like to have a drink and enjoy your friends. He educated us on when the right time was to do it.
IMAGE by Arnie - copyright LFChistory.net
Istanbul.. Your performance was phenomenal. You were cramping up and must have dreaded playing extra-time. How did life change after Istanbul?
It changed a lot. We were European champions and it was spoken about as one of the greatest games in Liverpool‘s history and we‘re all part of that. Your name goes up alongside the greats of Liverpool. Istanbul was the way we won it, it wasn‘t just winning. Not just Liverpool fans remember, everyone remembers Istanbul. If you say Istanbul to anybody, every football fan around the world knows what it is. That was what made it so special. Life did change because it was a game that changed football really. At that time a lot of the finals were dull and cagey. To see a final like that... that‘s why it‘s remembered so much.
Jamie Carragher has always been a rather outgoing person and tried to get to know his Liverpool teammates. We could hardly pass up this opportunity to ask him about a personal favourite of LFChistory, the enigmatic cult hero, Igor Biscan. LFChistory even interviewed Igor when he was a player at Liverpool where he admitted that a footballer's life was really boring, just an endless circle of training, resting, sleeping and playing... bless him. Our burning desire is to know one thing... How was Igor?
He was very quiet. He didn‘t mix too much with the other players. I didn‘t have too many conversations with him. I tried at the start but it was obvious he didn‘t want to mix too much. He just got on with his own thing. I felt a bit sorry for him really. He came, didn‘t end up playing so much. He ended up playing centre-back for almost a whole season under Houllier. He was a midfield player who didn‘t have a great time at Liverpool but in the Champions League under Rafa Benítez he played a lot of games as Alonso was injured and Stevie was injured. He was fantastic in the Deportivo La Coruna game. He played against Leverkusen, Juventus and Chelsea home and away. He was on the bench in the final so he‘s got a Champions League medal. He played as big a part as anybody.
You lost in Athens even though you played better than Milan that time.
I‘ve never watched the game again. It was too painful to lose the Champions League final. I don‘t remember too much from the game. That was one of the biggest disappointments of my career. But what a journey we had to get there, beating Chelsea again. We beat Barcelona who were the European champions with Ronaldinho, Messi, Deco, Eto‘o, all these brilliant players. We had a great journey on the way there. If you‘re a manager and you win, you get the team right, but if you lose you‘re wrong. How can you question Rafa Benítez when he was so successful as a manager?
Liverpool had a great chance to win the league in the 2008-9 season. Did the internal board struggle disrupt your progress?
No, i don‘t think so. When we were playing well no one really spoke about the owners. I think it was the year after when we weren‘t doing very well that people spoke about the owners. Manchester United were slightly better than us. We were a very, very good team. We had a great spine through the middle, they had something similar, maybe equal but they had Ronaldo. We had Torres and Stevie going forward. They had Rooney, Tevez and Ronaldo. In the front four positions they maybe had one more special player than we did. That was probably the difference.
His favourite current player
Firmino is my favourite player. He is brilliant in this Liverpool team. He helps Salah so much. The way he holds the ball, the work he does for the team. He is Klopp‘s most important player.
We had never won the league. We were close to winning the league. If I thought the team could win the league, I would have stayed one more season to try to help. The season before we finished 7th so it was a long way from the title. I thought it was best to retire then, but, of course, watching it you are very envious. I want to be a part of this. They were absolutely fantastic: the goals, the games they played. They couldn‘t quite keep it going with two games of the season left. A very sad story the way it ended. Hopefully in the coming years with Salah there. Can he play the role of Suarez when we almost won the league? Hopefully with the front three now. With Van Dijk coming in, we are more solid at the back. I think Van Dijk is fantastic. He looks as good as anyone out there in the world in his position. He is the world‘s record for a defender. You look at it now with his performances, he looks cheap.
Fantastic. Really good. We have a great tradition of bringing in young players like you see now again with Trent Alexander-Arnold. He is going to be a superstar and hopefully with two of them together we are going to see that even more. When they weren‘t together there was a problem politically between the first team and the youth team. There are not problems there now with Jürgen Klopp and Alex Inglethorpe but hopefully this will make the relationship even stronger.