With just two Premier League matches remaining this season, the final words are being penned in the epic story which is Jamie Carragher's Liverpool career. Fittingly, he will captain the side as he bows out into retirement, with team mate Steven Gerrard injured for the final games.
Carragher's illustrious playing career holds a hundred momentous stories and more, from the earliest moments of him scoring a goal on his debut as a young midfielder to, later in his career, picking up trophies in the League Cup, FA Cup and UEFA Cup. One of his prouder moments must also be lifting silverware himself for the Reds, as captain for the European Super Cup victory over CSKA Moscow.
For his very finest chapter, however, we must turn back the pages to the 2004-05 season, and Carragher's part in Liverpool's biggest modern-day triumph.
We are talking, of course, about his extraordinary performance in the 2005 UEFA Champions League final, where he helped the Reds bounce back from a 3-0 half time deficit against AC Milan to level up at 3-3, before holding the Milanese side at bay for the rest of the match, for extra time—and finally beating them on penalties.
The marvellous run of Liverpool to the final on May 25th 2005 is often traced back to the group stage victory over Olympiacos—but for all "Carra's" heroics on the day of the final itself, it is rarely recalled that he had a huge part to play in that momentous game at Anfield as well, back in December of 2004.
That game, the final group stage fixture, saw Liverpool needing to beat the Greek side by two clear goals to progress; anything less and they would be bowing out of Champions League football for the season. A first-half Rivaldo goal made the task all the more difficult for the Reds, who needed three second-half goals now to go through. Neil Mellor and Florent Sinama-Pongolle scored a goal each moments after coming on as substitutes in that second period, leaving just one goal between Liverpool and a place in the knock-out rounds.
And so came Carragher's first major contribution to that run which would end in such glory in Istanbul.
The commentary, the strike itself, the reaction from the Kop when the ball hit the back of the net are seared in the memory of every Liverpool supporter, with Steven Gerrard the hero who struck that mighty blow to the Greeks. But the buildup was also entirely made by the Kirkby academy.
Carragher himself it was who popped up in an unfamiliar role on the left wing.
He could have turned back and played a simple pass, he could have panicked and tried to dribble past his man or attempt an unlikely shot at goal. But instead, he opted for a Cruyff turn, a look up, and then picked out the perfect cross to the centre for Mellor to head down—and Gerrard's right boot did the rest.
Oh ya beauty, and all that.
On Liverpool went into the knock-outs, past Bayer Leverkusen, Juventus and finally Chelsea, with Carragher—and central defensive partner Sami Hyypia alongside him—growing in stature, confidence and solidity with every passing game.
The final itself didn't start well of course, with Milan netting inside a minute and adding two more—plus a disallowed goal—before half time. Carragher and co. were rocking, and needed not just a massive second half, but a miraculous one.
That second 45 minutes, plus the 30 which followed in extra time, were without doubt Jamie Carragher's best moment in a Liverpool shirt. Blocks, tackles, interceptions, tracking runs and confident on-the-ball activity, Carragher did it all. Late in the game, he had to do it with cramp, but the images of him flinging himself in the way of yet another cross even while his legs seized up on him are some of the most memorable of that final.
He would give anything, everything, to see his club take home victory in that game.
Another little-remembered incident from Carragher; as the Reds pulled back one (Gerrard) and then two (Vladi Smicer) on Milan, it was Carragher who led the charge from the back, rampaging through the centre and swapping passes with his team mates, which led to the penalty and ensuing third Liverpool goal, scored by Xabi Alonso into the roof of the net after he initially missed the spot-kick.
Stopper, blocker, and apparently box-to-box playmaking defender, all rolled into one.
Kaka must have thought he'd roll the ball home for 4-3 at one point—but Carragher met him stride for stride and toe for toe, and won his battle.
So too did Clarence Seedorf lose his tussle with Carra. As did Andrei Shevchenko, bursting through into the box. And Serginho. And Serginho's low crosses into the six-yard box. Those clearances in particular, muscles giving up but brain refusing to, epitomised everything about Carragher's spirit, desire and will to win.
There was still energy enough left for one final sprint.
One mad, crazy, euphoric sprint which left Carragher almost blacking out, and he didn't care one bit. It came when Jerzy Dudek saved Shevchenko's penalty kick in the shoot-out, and it meant that Liverpool were, that Carragher was, a European Champion.
When Carragher hangs up his boots for good after May 19 this season, almost eight years to the day since the wild celebrations of Istanbul, Liverpool won't just be losing a player to retirement.
They'll be losing a legend of their own making, a man who knew what it was to wear the Red shirt with pride, to win trophies with the Liverbird on his chest and how to both face and overcome adversity with dignity, ability and, most of all, a way to win.
Seven hundred and thirty five games and counting, with two more pages to come in this enthralling, inspiring tale.
Jamie Carragher is a winner, a champion, an ambassador and has written his own name into the history of Liverpool Football Club, and Istanbul in May 2005 was his finest hour.
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