An ever-present influence around the club ever since signing his first professional contract 17 years ago, Carragher is part of the Liverpool furniture, Reds folklore and potentially the club’s future once he’s taken the break away from the game that he’s so richly deserved.
Perhaps if he were fading into the background then it would be easier to picture Liverpool life without their vice-captain, but since late January the centre-back has become a crucial ingredient in Brendan Rodgers’ first-team plans, with the leadership qualities of the 35-year-old proving vital in helping this evolving side towards favourable results.
Partly, the need for Carragher has been down to this season’s struggles of the previously impressive Martin Skrtel, whilst the Uruguayan Sebastian Coates has shown glimpses of potential but hasn’t done much to convince supporters that he is the long-term central defensive partner for Daniel Agger.
Now thankfully over his injury problems, the Dane will be entering his ninth season at Liverpool when 2013/14 kicks off, and given that it will be the first without the influence and advice of Carragher to call upon, it’ll be him who is seen as the senior man and looked to for guidance.
With the futures of Skrtel and Coates now far from certain, the recruitment of a new central defender to play alongside Agger has become paramount to Rodgers and Liverpool ahead of next season.
They won’t be able to unearth another Carragher―players with such passion, desire, will-to-win and a genuine bond with the supporters only come along once every decade or so, or twice if you count Steven Gerrard―but they can look for players with his leadership skills and organisational capabilities.
As Carragher has shown this season, there may be a lot to be said about Liverpool showing youthful energy and promise in certain areas of the field, but there are times and positions in which experience is key.
Rodgers might well look to bring in a talented young defender to supplement his squad―whilst, of course, looking to further develop those he currently possesses has such as the 19-year-old Andre Wisdom, a player who has benefitted from Carragher’s advice and also been on the receiving end of his praise (via Daily Mail)―but a more established performer should come in too.
Martin Kelly can’t be discounted in this equation as well, of course―with the Academy product ready to return from injury in the summer and looking to build on over 50 first-team games already―but the growing links with Swansea City’s Ashley Williams (via Daily Telegraph) are certainly the clearest indication that Rodgers plans to break with Fenway Sports Group’s tradition and recruit experience.
On the face of it, former Hednesford Town and Stockport County defender Williams might not have the CV to match up to Champions League winner Carragher, but the 28-year-old Wales captain has shown strong leadership qualities in marshalling the back lines of both his country and his club this season, and he has been one of the most impressive defenders in the Premier League alongside winning the Capital One Cup.
Throw in his link with Rodgers and this suddenly looks a signing that appears more and more possible, but of course any move would require Williams leaving behind his comfortable situation at Swansea, where he is guaranteed European football next season.
Whether or not it is Williams who is recruited to replace Carragher this summer remains to be seen, but whoever steps into those shoes will have to be able to handle the pressure of slotting into the space created by the departure of a club legend.
It is crucial that that player has the mental toughness to be able to stand up to the challenge, because if he doesn’t then the Carragher-less Liverpool will suddenly appear very noticeable to many.
And not for the right reasons either.