I’m late to the party, but I wanted to wait until the England squad seemed certain before jumping the gun. Admittedly, it’s a bit surprising to see Jamie Carragher’s name back in an England line-up. And Carra’s return from the wilderness, accepting Capello’s invitation after repeatedly spurning McClaren, probably isn’t good news for Liverpool, at least on the face of it.
First, it’s yet another player who’ll sacrifice rest for a chance to represent his country, which we can’t begrudge. But it means less recovery time for an aging defender, and every Liverpool fan will spend June fearful of injuries – whether it’s Carragher, Torres, or whomever. In theory, Carra won’t be first choice at any position in South Africa, but chances are he’ll start at least one game. And regardless, he’ll be far more physically active than if he took the summer off.
But what’s total speculation on my part (yes, I’m a hypocrite) seems more significant, and far more worrying. Carragher retired from international football in 2007, basically saying that club came first. Even if it’s not true, that he’s willing to return implies Liverpool isn’t first and foremost anymore. So much for “Fuck it, it’s only England.” And that’s a frightening prospect after a season full of rumors and innuendo about dressing room discord.
Let me make it clear. I’m not condemning Carra’s choice one bit. Very few get to play in a World Cup; it’s a life’s ambition for every professional footballer. Carragher probably wouldn’t come out of retirement for the Euros and definitely wouldn’t for a friendly. The World Cup will always be different. Plus, playing for (and learning from) a manager of Capello’s caliber is an extra enticement.
And there’s an identifiable place for him in the squad, with a very good chance that Carra will actually play. England’s weak across the entire back four, and Jamie can handle all four positions. Johnson’s less than fit on the right, no center back has stood out this season, and Ashley Cole’s just returning from an extended injury while Bridge hasn’t looked the same since the scandal on the left. Wes Brown and Joleon Lescott will likely miss the tournament. As it often was under Houllier, Carragher’s Jack-of-all-Trades versatility will be his biggest asset. Jamie is a pair of safe, steady hands, and that's massive in a tournament of this importance.
I just hope I’m reading too much into this decision. No matter Carragher’s bad spells this season and the murmurs of dissension behind the scenes, he’s still a moral center at this club – just as important a talisman as a player. He has to be on board with Liverpool’s future.