Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez was full of praise today for Jamie Carragher, who he said is the best defender in the country. Rafa said: “For me, Carra last season was the best defender in England and this season he has started at the same level. Mourinho can talk about John Terry but for me Carra was fantastic last season. Terry is very good but Carra is better. He gives you aggression, security, discipline, and he works so hard for the team. When you see a player working as hard as he does, he sets an example to the rest of the team.”
Rafa Benitez arrived at Anfield 18 months ago and instantly moved Jamie to the centre of defence, a position he’d played before the arrival of Rafa’s predecessor. From being a player that former manager Gerard Houllier seemed intent on trying to move out, Carra became an important member of the early Benitez teams. Rafa had clearly seen Carra in action from afar and knew he could work to bring the best out of him.
Rafa feels he can rely on Jamie because of his consistency: “With Carra you know that he will always do a good job with not many mistakes. If you want to win trophies, you can have excellent players who get 10 now and again but you need ones that are going to give you 8, 9, 8, 9 out of 10 all around the season.”
For England Carragher is behind others in the pecking order for central positions, but his versatility means that Sven Goran Eriksson would be making a huge mistake if he didn’t take him to Germany. Benitez hinted that perhaps Carra’s versatility is what’s stopping him from getting a regular start for his national team: “If you are a good player who can play in many positions, sometimes that is a problem for you. It depends on your necessity. If you need a right-back, Carra can play well there. If you need a left-back, Carra can play well there too. We needed a centre-back, so Carra played there.”
Carra only wears the captain’s armband when Steven Gerrard is off the pitch, but he has been organising and encouraging his team-mates for years regardless of who the official captain might be. He wants to win, and he lives for the game. He’s certainly impressed his manager: “He has progressed so much over the past few seasons because he is very clever. He listens and works in training sessions; he takes things in and is always trying to improve. When you are prepared to listen, to put aside your ego and work, then you grow as a player and as a person. He has done that, he wants to absorb everything the coaches teach him and use it to improve.”
The press weren’t as impressed with Carra signing a new contract as they were when Steven Gerrard did, but Reds fans were delighted to see him do so. Then again, it’s hard to imagine Carra playing for any other club, as Rafa says: “He is a local boy, and he has the pride and passion for Liverpool. He is our heartbeat. Yes, Steven Gerrard is an incredible player who scores goals and does the glamorous work that gets recognised but Carra is equally important.”