Liverpool's veteran and legendary central defender Jamie Carragher is set to retire at the end of the present season, calling time on a Reds career which has spanned more than 730 first-team matches across more than a decade and a half.
Having been out of the first-team picture for around a year in total under both Kenny Dalglish and Brendan Rodgers, it appeared that the time was right for Carra to step out of the game professionally, but his recent inclusion—and subsequent upturn in results—over the past three months has given rise to thoughts among some that he might delay retirement.
Manager Rodgers mentioned recently that he would sit down with the defender at the end of the campaign to discuss his future, one again posing the potential for eking an extra campaign out of him. As per LiverpoolFC.com:
He's been fantastic and I do [believe he could play next season]. Him and I communicate a lot and he's obviously got something in his mind. He and I will sit down between now and the end of the season anyway and we'll see where it goes. If he does go, I will certainly miss him because he's been brilliant for me in my time there, going in as a manager of a club of that size. He's shown great respect and really helped me and the other guys. The thing for now is to keep performing the way he is until the end of the season and between then and now him and I will chat and we'll take it from there.
Perhaps Carragher's mind is already dead set and, no matter what direction Rodgers tries to steer the conversation in, he will remain immovable and close the chapter on his playing career this summer.
But from the point of view of the team, is this the right option?
For Carragher to continue, three criteria must arguably be satisfied.
Firstly, of course, that he can continue to contribute to the team. His particular set of skills including his leadership and organisation at the back have been sorely missing at times, with not too many more vocal personalities around the squad.
Carra has been given a run for about the last three months, but can he sustain that kind of performance over the course of a season? Perhaps not week-in, week-out, but at least being relied upon for two or three games out of every four?
Secondly, is it indeed in Liverpool's interests to keep him on? The Reds are no doubt looking at plenty of names to replace him and perhaps others in the centre of defence, but are those names genuinely an improvement on what is already at the club?
Are they financially viable deals which could help Liverpool both in the immediate and the mid-term future? Any targeted incoming defenders not only have to be as good or better than Carragher—and whoever else they replace—but also within financial reach and who the Reds, likely without European football, are able to lure to Anfield with the promise of first-team football and a challenge on the top four next term.
Finally, is Carragher being on the team—while visibly aiding results—hindering the tactical evolution of the side?
No. 23 is far from the quickest, though his reading of the game is impeccable, and this means that the Reds are often forced to employ a rather deep defensive line or one that drops off quickly by 20 metres any time possession is lost.
This is costing Liverpool the chance to press high up the field and keep a compact line between defence and midfield, an issue which has cost more than one goal this season.
For all his abilities as a defender, has time simply caught up with him enough that the team must evolve without him to keep their own progression at an acceptable rate?
These are all questions that Rodgers will have to bear in his mind before speaking with Carragher between now and the end of the season. Indeed, the boss may well have made up his own mind and be merely playing out the possibility of Carragher staying, or otherwise be aiming some praise the way of his defender and put a halt to questions of summer replacements.
It will be another summer of change for Liverpool as Rodgers shapes his squad further, but the centre-back position is arguably the most important of all for him to fill correctly.
Judging by the manager's quotes, there remains a small chance it could be Carragher again in the lineup next season, and for his own status as a Liverpool legend as well as the fate of the team on the field, it's a decision that player and boss have to get right.