10 May 2010 – 00:21:03
There is one aspect of Jamie Carragher’s return to the England squadthat does not make sense. What has changed? If he goes to South Africait will in all likelihood be as the fourth-choice centre half andreserve right back, pretty much the career opportunity that proved soeasy to resist when Steve McClaren was manager.
Yes, there is now the lure of the World Cup finals rather than afailing European Championship qualification campaign, yet Carragher wasinvolved in four World Cup matches in Germany in 2006, including twostarts, so is not without the experience. Perhaps his club season contains the answer.
Carragher made it plain that he derived his greatest enjoyment fromplaying for Liverpool, yet this season can hardly have been fulfilling.He may have reviewed the sorry mess of a scrap for a Europa Leagueplace combined with disappointments and humiliations in various cups athome and across Europe, and concluded that going to a World Cup withEngland remains his best chance of experiencing an adrenaline rush.
Something must have altered about the international game for Carragher because, on the face of it, nothing has.
The last of his appearances for England was on June 1, 2007, againstBrazil at Wembley, the final straw being that Ledley King was preferredalongside John Terry at centre half. That night Carragher wasrelegated, once again, to right back.
Change of heart: Jamie Carragher shows his skills against Vagner Love in his last game for England against Brazil
Much is made of his disparaging comments about internationalfootball in his autobiography, never caring for England as he did forLiverpool, but the bottom line was that it was not so much that he gaveup on England, but that England gave up on him. In the next game, inEstonia five days later, King kept his place and Wes Brown was selectedat right back. Carragher decided enough was enough.
He did not enjoy playing reserve to Terry and Rio Ferdinand, orfilling in at full back as was often required his final competitivestart was against Israel in Tel Aviv in that position but heunderstood the pecking order.
It was only when King returned from another extended injury absenceand instantly made two starts that Carragher realised he was not justthe understudy but the understudy’s understudy and his disillusionmentwas overwhelming.
More from Martin Samuel… Martin Samuel: It’s Madness as Chelsea dance to a happy beat09/05/10 MARTIN SAMUEL: Shop wherever you like – just as long as it’s Tesco06/05/10 Martin Samuel: Sorry City, it’s a great result and Eastlands fans will approve06/05/10 Martin Samuel: Don’t weep for Rafa Benitez, he made his own bed…04/05/10 Martin Samuel: Ribery case exposes the cowardice of our sweet FA02/05/10 MARTIN SAMUEL: Maddie, the heartrending dilemma30/04/10 Martin Samuel: Once upon a time there was a fairytale at the Cottage…29/04/10 Martin Samuel: Bravo, Jose for dousing Barcelona myth in Inter win29/04/10 VIEW FULL ARCHIVE The irony is that, due to injuries, Carragher would have played themajority of games in the rest of the campaign. He would have startedahead of Sol Campbell or Joleon Lescott against Estonia, Russia away and Croatia.
McClaren, in crisis by the end with his top three central defendersmissing for the vital final game at Wembley, tried to persuadeCarragher to reconsider his retirement but, still smarting and no doubtrelishing the payback, the player refused.
Fabio Capello, the current England manager, has no awkward historyand that makes it easier for Carragher to come to England’s aid thissummer but, personal relationships aside, why is it different now? Thefirst-choice central defenders remain Terry and Ferdinand, King issuffering respite from injury and is pick number three, while havingplaced Glen Johnson among the best full backs in the world, Capellosurely regards him as first choice.
So where is Carragher? Exactly at the point where he made hisexcuses and left: fourth centre half, second right back. Maybe hethinks the physical fragility of those up the order increases his hopeof involvement. Perhaps Capello has privately indicated that there arematches in which Johnson’s place would be vulnerable to a no-nonsensedefender, with an astute reading of the game.
Then again, he could be lightly used or not needed in South Africaand must continue to wonder why, to England managers, one game playedby King this season seems to be worth almost three of his.
Utility man: Carragher has seldom been first choice for his country, and has often been used as a right back
There is one unexplored option which is that Capello, like manyothers, is not entirely convinced by the form of England’s first-choicecentral defenders and has hinted to Carragher that the four will beginon level terms when the World Cup squad gathers. It may just be sweettalk but whatever logic Capello’s people are using, it looks to haveworked.
Selecting Carragher will be a gamble, though. Not because he lacks the talent if he had been willing to remain an international footballer, Lescott and Matthew Upson would still be club footballers but because there is an uneasy past and England supporters have no less pride than those of Liverpool.
They will be divided on his selection after his casual dismissal of England’s importance, that is for sure. There may also be resentment that he has returned for the best of it, without being troubled by the hard yards, trips to places like Minsk and Zagreb.
On a practical level it could be argued that the returning player is not of the same calibre as the one who retired, either.
Carragher in 2007 was faster and tidier than he has been this season. Liverpool’s defenders have missed Xabi Alonso as an outlet and, at 32, Carragher is not getting quicker. He remains, however, in a different class to the player Capello would have relied on, Upson, who has endured a dreadful season with West Ham.
Carragher has also demonstrated on any number of occasions that there are few defenders better in a backs-to-the-wall match against a strong attacking team. He may come into his own when faced with Brazil or Spain, heroically defiant in a way only Terry at his best can be.
No nonsense: Carragher demonstrates his tough-tackling style against Chelsea’s Dider Drogba
The nagging doubt is that Liverpool’s resilience in Europe under Rafael Benitez was once built on Carragher’s substance while, this season, they have exited two competitions against inferior opposition and kept four clean sheets in 14 matches, two against Debrecen of Hungary. This has not been the Liverpool, or Carragher, of old.
What his selection proves beyond doubt is that Capello is a pragmatist. Now the World Cup is a month away, slowly his list of pre-conditions on player selection is dwindling.
He said he wanted fit, committed players, in action regularly for their clubs. One by one, these caveats disappear. If a player is good, like Ferdinand or King, he can be flexible over sustained fitness; if a player gets the best out of Wayne Rooney, like Emile Heskey, he may be able to overlook his absence from the first team; and if a player once spoke dispassionately of England, as Carragher did, he can agree this is water under the bridge.
In the vernacular of the moment, it is clear Capello is now willing to make a big, open and comprehensive offer to get his coalition World Cup squad honed before Tuesday.
Get rid of Pardew at your perilProgressive: Pardew has impressed on the south coast
Congratulations to Alan Pardew on winning his final game of the seasonat Southampton, although if suspicions about Nicola Cortese, hischairman, are correct, it could also be his last game at the club.
In the summer, the clever money says that Pardew will go, punished for not getting a team who kicked off with minus 10 points promoted, and Cortese will appoint the yes-man coach that he wants, probably from abroad.
Without the pre-season handicap that Pardew had to overcome, Southampton’s transfer outlay should ensure promotion but, from there, watch out.
Aggressively changing managers has not served the club well in the past, hence their appearance in League One.
Losing a bright, progressive coach is rarely the way forward, either. Let’s call it Nigel Pearson syndrome.
Monty is on a loserColin Montgomerie, Europe’s Ryder Cup captain, called for as many of his team as possible to compete in the Wales Open next month, to acquaint them with host venue Celtic Manor.
So far, only Padraig Harrington has answered his call. Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter will be in the United States.
The fact is golf is a solitary game with selfish motivations. For one week biennially, players from two continents band together and pretend to be a team but before that, and after, forget it.
AND WHILE WE’RE AT IT…John Higgins, suspended from snooker pending corruption allegations, received support from an unlikely corner last week.
Professional victim Heather Mills tweeted: ‘I believe snooker legend John Higgins is 100 per cent innocent and has been set up. (Actually it might help if you read this part out in a high, borderline hysterical, Geordie accent) PEOPLE THAT DO THIS ARE DISGUSTING.’
Heather is responsible for nine countries, as she once told Fern Britton, so should be saluted for taking time out to pass on this important information.
More news from Roy Gardner, noted sage on football matters and former chairman of Manchester United.
Now ensconced at Plymouth Argyle, he sacked his first manager, Paul Mariner, on Thursday following relegation to League One.
‘We have decided to increase the possibility of success by bringing in an experienced figure,’ Gardner said.
Ah yes, increasing the possibility of success, wise move there. It does raise one question though:what was Roy doing before?
Crying foulIf an attacking player is running down the wing and a defender deliberately stands in his path, unmoving and with no motivation to play the ball, it is obstruction. So how can an attacking team legally place two human posts in front of a goalkeeper to stop him coming off his line effectively at corners?
It is mysterious why other clubs can deal with the tactics of Sam Allardyce and Arsenal have so much trouble, but in principle Arsene Wenger, their manager, is correct. Arsenal goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski is completely out of his depth in the Premier League, but blocking him off deliberately, as Allardyce’s Blackburn Rovers did last week, should not be allowed.
Out of his depth: Rovers’ David Dunn pounces as Fabianski flounders
It is to be hoped that after watching Steve McClaren win the league with Twente Enschede in Holland, more British coaches will be motivated to work abroad.
If a glass ceiling exists for our managers in the Premier League, a different route must be sought to smash it.
There is now talk of McClaren transferring his skills to the Bundesliga in Germany and were he to experience similar success there, he would become an option for clubs of elite status in England. That is something that would never have happened had he simply done a good job, year after year, at Middlesbrough.
Ask the Everton manager, David Moyes.
Hole in the roadThere is consternation that the R&A have made alterations to the famous 17th at St Andrews the Road Hole in time for this summer’s Open Championship. The tee has been pushed back 40 yards, making it a 495-yard monster.
The reasoning is that as players hit the ball further so the hole has lost its challenge. Shorter approach shots have taken the road bunker, and even the road, out of the equation.
‘I’m sure it will lead to the odd moan,’ said Peter Dawson, the R&A chief executive.
Driving the issue: Dawson
Why? The Road Hole without the road is just a hole. Any professional with a love for the history of the game should be able to understand that it must be kept competitive.
Now that Gareth Barry faces a battle to be fit for the World Cup, Joleon Lescott is injured, Shaun Wright-Phillips marginalised and Wayne Bridge playing like something less than Ashley Cole’s rival for the left back spot, it is probably just as well that Fabio Capello did not jettison his main central defender, John Terry, to appease the Manchester City contingent, don’t you think?
More end-of-season violence, this time by supporters of Grimsby Town at Burton Albion, a terrific, well-run club, with a compact fit-for-purpose stadium. The Football Association must address this problem as a matter of urgency. It is happening too often to be complacent now.