The news that Jamie Carragher is set to come out of international retirement to take a place in England’s World Cup squad, as has been reported by a number of reputable sources in recent days, came as something of a shock to the vast majority of followers of English football. Following his self-imposed exile from international football in 2007, the Liverpool centre-half has been scathing in his criticism of the England set-up at times since his withdrawal from it.
In his autobiography, “Carra”, published in 2008, Carragher claimed that he cared far more about playing for Liverpool than England, a refreshingly honest declaration in my opinion, but the comments were seen as being indicative of a poor and even anti-patriotic attitude towards his country in some quarters. With such comments on record, the myth of “Carragher the England-hater” spread and ingrained itself in common English football culture, the notion that the defender would never would never even consider a return to the national side becoming popularised. However, despite continually rebuffing approaches from Steve McLaren in recent years, Carragher has clearly seen something in the Capello regime which has prompted him to reverse his previous decision and tempt him back into the squad ahead of the World Cup.
But is Carragher’s likely return to the England fold actually good news for those who follow the fortunes of the national team? Well, in some respects Capello’s eagerness to coax the Liverpool man out of retirement is fully understandable. With his first choice right-back, Glen Johnson, having proven to be highly injury-prone this season, and with no obvious replacements available, Capello’s decision to ask Carragher – who is equally as capable when deployed at right-back as at centre-half – to return to play for England is grounded in a certain amount of logic.
However, despite the apparent sense and reasoning behind the Italian Coach’s resolution, there have been serious doubts over Carragher’s form this season, with some questioning the Liverpool legend’s ability to continue to play at the very top level. The early months of the current campaign saw Carragher produce a series of insipid displays, a run of poor form which culminated in a particularly calamitous showing against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge where he was directly responsible for the Blues’ second goal, scored by Florent Malouda. Although he’s never been the quickest, Carragher’s lack of pace has become more marked over the last eighteen months and his positional awareness has suffered as a result. Once renowned for his immaculate positioning and timing, the defender is showing signs that he might be coming towards the end of his career, or at least outliving his usefulness to a club with aspirations of regularly competing in the latter stages of the Champions League.
In addition to the fears surrounding Carragher’s form, there are also concerns that the veteran’s presence in the squad will negatively impact upon the chances of some of England’s younger, arguably more reliable defenders being selected for the trip to South Africa. The immediate international futures of the likes of Michael Dawson, Matthew Upson, Leighton Baines and Phil Jagielka could well be put in jeopardy by the Liverpool player’s return to the international scene. There is also a real sense of injustice that Carragher could deny one of the players that has helped England to qualify from being selected by Capello. Clearly that is a matter for the Italian to weigh up, but someone is likely to be left with a bitter taste in their mouth.
There is no question that Carragher has been one of the finest English centre-halves of the last decade, but whether he continues to possess the ability necessary to play at the World Cup is highly questionable. If Glen Johnson picks up an injury in South Africa – something which is, unfortunately, a real possibility – could Carragher be trusted to fill-in efficiently against some of the world’s best forwards? I, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this, have some real doubts.