Thou shall not pass: Albiol in action during El Clasico
Sunday afternoon at Anfield represented veteran Jamie Carragher’s swan song as a Liverpool player after 17 glorious years on Merseyside, but in football you can never stand still even for a second, and so Reds manager Brendan Rodgers will already have a list of potential defensive replacements for the 35-year-old next season.
In fact, from the moment that Carragher announced his decision to call it quits in February, the Northern Irishman has been linked with a whole host of possible centre backs to take over from the one-time England international. According to the Daily Express, Swansea City’s Wales international Ashley Williams is an option, along with Feyenoord captain Stefan de Vrij, according to the Daily Mail and highly-rated Vasco da Gama defender Dede, according to ESPN.
However, with Williams appearing to favour a summer move to UEFA Champions League qualifiers Arsenal, reports the Mail, instead, De Vrij having just signed a new deal, reports Goal.com, that keeps him in Rotterdam until 2015 and Dede now a Cruzeiro player, reports the Metro, most of Rodgers’ first choices are no longer available as we approach the time when the transfer window reopens for business on June 1.
All but one of them, that is, as there still remains the opportunity to bring experienced Real Madrid central defender Raul Albiol to the club for next season as a successor to Carragher, a move that the Reds boss and his scouting team must now be giving serious thought to.
Albiol has been linked by the Daily Express with a summer move to Anfield in recent weeks and despite having only put pen to paper on a new five-year contract with the Spanish giants at the beginning of this campaign, the 27-year-old’s future at the Santiago Bernabeu is still very much open to debate.
For one thing, the centre back has featured in just 41 matches for Los Blancos in the past two seasons, less than he made in his entire debut campaign in the Spanish capital in 2009-10, and Albiol’s role since head coach Jose Mourinho arrived at the club three years ago has been mainly that of back-up defender to the likes of first-choices Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Ricardo Carvalho and, more recently, Raphael Varane.
As a result, the Reds would not only be securing a vastly experienced and high-quality defender desperate to prove himself by getting much-needed game time ahead of next summer’s World Cup finals in Brazil, but they should also be able to secure his signature for a fee similar to that which Madrid bought him from Valencia for in June 2009, 15 million euros.
If that were the case, it would represent a smart piece of business by Rodgers. This is a player with 38 Spain caps to his name since making his international debut six years ago, during which time Albiol has picked up two UEFA European Championship and one FIFA World Cup winners’ medals.
Meanwhile on the domestic front, the centre back has also won La Liga (2012), the Copa del Rey (2008 and 2011) and the UEFA Cup (2004), and so this is a player with big-match experience who has done it at the very highest levels and at 27, should just now be entering the prime of his career.
And remember that with Rodgers having lost a player with 737 matches worth of experience to his name, he will be looking to bring in a replacement with a similar type of profile, as opposed to a young up-and-coming defender, with Albiol fitting that bill nicely having played more than 300 games for Valencia, Madrid and Spain since 2005.
In fact, Rodgers could even opt to start the next campaign with the central-defensive partnership with which he kicked off this season, Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel, while Albiol is given valuable and much-needed time to acclimatise to life in a foreign league for the very first time in his career.
However, having slowly been bedded in to and got accustomed to the vagaries of the Premier League, it should not take the Spaniard long to adapt to the physicality and extreme pace of the English top flight, in comparison to what he would be used to back home in La Liga.
Is Albiol a suitable replacement for Carragher?
For one thing, the defender is 6'3" and so a rainy day at Stoke City in December should hold few fears for the player, while Albiol’s all-round physique would also be well suited to the demands of the Premier League, especially the aerial nature of the game in England.
Equally, the centre back’s pace and ease at both bringing the ball out of defence or when operating with the ball at his feet would make him an instant hit at Anfield, while his versatility at being able to also play at either right back or as a holding midfield player are added attractions to signing Albiol.
And do not forget that this was a defender that the whole of Europe were chasing when he came on the market in June 2009, a reputation that soared even higher after his outstanding first season at the White House, and so Rodgers should be looking no further than Madrid when it comes to nominating Carragher’s successor this summer.