Carra focussed on the final

It’s FA Cup final day and the team that won the first Cardiff FA Cup are aiming to be the last to win it there as well. So many great memories for Liverpool of appearances in Cardiff have been tarnished this week by the incredible double standards of the stadium manager and the local police force. Now the Reds must show on the field that good memories can be taken away from Cardiff. And the FA should ensure that August’s Charity Shield (its real name) is also taken away from Cardiff.

The Liverpool fans that have been able to get tickets for this game against West Ham will be in their usual good voice, perhaps a thousand voices short of the number that should be there, but two of the club’s biggest fans are going to be on the pitch. Vice-captain Jamie Carragher was talking to reporters in Liverpool before the players headed off on the coach, and he spoke about how his fellow local-born team-mate Steven Gerrard was fast becoming the best player Liverpool had ever had. Standing in Gerrard’s way of that title was the man that would be hard to shift by anyone, King Kenny Dalglish. Carra had been thinking about this after a bit of web-surfing: “I saw on one of the websites they were doing a poll on the 100 greatest Liverpool players, and in my opinion, Steven Gerrard is second only to Kenny Dalglish as the greatest to ever play for Liverpool.”

Quite some praise from Carra, but he doesn’t say it lightly: “There have been many world class players like Graeme Souness in his position, and the list is a long one at Liverpool, but for what Stevie’s achieved at such a young age, I can’t believe too many others were better. If he can win a few league titles, he may even go beyond Kenny. I don’t think there’s any better compliment I can pay to him than that, but he’s still younger now than Kenny was when he signed for Liverpool, so who knows what he can become?”

Carra says Stevie is going to need to be a part of Liverpool teams that
finally increase that number of titles won by the club from eighteen,
the figure it’s been stood at far too long: “I suppose at the end of
his career it will be the number of league titles he’s won which will
decide it, but people probably forget he’s still only 25, so he’s got a
lot of time to win more trophies.”

A league title is certainly on the cards for next season, if Liverpool
can improve as much in the league again as they did this season.
Ultimately finishing only nine points behind the champions, Liverpool
can look back and see how close they were to taking that title for
themselves. That’s for next season though – today is the club’s last
game of a season that started exactly 10 months ago on July 13th.
Winning today’s game would give them their second piece of silverware
of the season and would keep the momentum going. Carra says the captain
could well be the one to give them that victory: “In Stevie we’ve got a
potential match winner.” In case Stevie’s head was starting to grow too
much though Carra had to have a little dig, referring to last season’s
League Cup final at the same stadium: “He proved that in Cardiff the
last time we were there! Hopefully he’ll put that right and score at
the right end this time.”

Last time Liverpool were at Cardiff for an FA Cup final was in 2001,
when Michael Owen rescued Liverpool for a victory that will live long
in the mind. Carra is asked what his memories are of that afternoon,
and he has a very honest answer: “Vieira playing like a machine, us
getting battered for 70 minutes and then winning it. Although we won,
we realised after that game that we were still a little bit behind

That FA Cup win was part of a treble, which became five trophies in a
calendar year by the end of August that year. Liverpool fans really
thought the good old days were back, with Champions League
qualification another of the big items of progress that season. In the
end though it proved to be a false dawn. Gerard Houllier’s decisions in
the transfer market turned out to be way off beam. Carra is perhaps
more careful with his words than a lot of Liverpool fans might be, but
players like El Hadji Diouf and Bruno Cheyrou must be on his mind when
he says: “The players we bought didn’t work out. They took us

Although Diouf was finally offloaded – at a loss – Liverpool have been
forced to send out on loan the likes of Cheyrou and Salif Diao because
nobody wants them, including Gerard Houllier, who now manages Lyon.
Rafa Benítez will be adding to his squad this summer, but Carra doesn’t
feel he’ll be making the same errors as his predecessor. Rafa knows
what he wants says Jamie: “We need an out and out pacey goalscorer. I’m
not talking out of school here because the manager has said that
himself. He’s after a right-winger as well but whoever we get in those
positions the big thing is to get more pace in attack.”

With the mention of strikers the names Dirk Kuyt and Jermaine Defoe
always come up, but now Liverpool are looking seriously at making a
move for Charlton’s Darren Bent. At least half-a-dozen new faces will
arrive at the club this summer, including Mark González and Gabriel
Paletta.  Houllier spent a lot of money, and although Rafa hasn’t
exactly a shoestring budget, he’s done a lot more with a lot less, in
less time too: “After two years of Benitez we’re probably at the same
stage as after four years of Houllier. We all talk about different
managers but it would be virtually impossible for anyone to have done
better than what he’s done considering the money he’s had to spend, the
situation when he first came in and the injuries in his first season. I
think everyone realised that we’ve got a really top manager because
whoever you’d have put in charge I don’t think they’d have done better.”

When Rafa arrived a lot of pundits predicted the end of the road for
Carra, how wrong they were. He made Carra back into a centre-back after
he’d played for years as a full-back and in doing so made him into on
of the most vital components of the team. Rafa doesn’t let his players
relax though:  “He’s a very critical manager. He doesn’t really praise
players that much. That’s his way of keeping them on their toes. No
matter how good a game you’ve had, he’ll always pull you on something
you’ve done wrong because he always wants to keep on top of the
players. Playing Juventus, we’d just got a clean sheet against some of
the best players in the world and he started telling me where I’d gone
wrong. He didn’t think I was aware of what was going on behind me.”

Carra is a player who spends his time off watching more football if he
can, and he’s very impressed with one of his opponents today, Marlon
Harewood: “He’s a very strong boy who’s had a great season and I’m a
bit surprised that he wasn’t mentioned for England, maybe on the
reserve list. He could have been a back-up for Peter Crouch.”

All-in-all Carra says that the Hammers aren’t going to be an easy team
to beat. The Reds will be going out with a lot of respect for their
opponents: “We beat West Ham at Upton Park but we came off the pitch
very impressed by them that night. We beat them at home as well but at
0-0 they caused us a lot of problems so we’re well aware of what a good
side they are. We might be favourites but not massively. Anyway, the
manager doesn’t entertain talk like that. He has a great saying: if you
think you’re better than your opponents, say it after you’ve beaten
them. Not before. You’ve got to show some respect. If we lift the Cup
then we can say we’re better than West Ham, but only then. The boss
will make sure there’s no complacency and I’ll do my best as well. It
will ruin a lot of summers if we don’t win the Cup.”

English journalists love the England national team, and Carra is in the
squad for the World Cup finals. Inevitably he’s asked whether he’ll be
playing well to impress the England coach. The player who once said
(off the record) something very close to, “Stuff it, it’s only England”
answered this question diplomatically: “I want to play well of course
but I’m not there to impress Eriksson. I’m playing for Liverpool and I
want to impress Benitez by hopefully winning the Cup. It’ll be pretty
depressing with England if we haven’t done that.” He does want to do
well with England, and would be proud if he got the place in the
starting line-up he so obviously deserves, but he’ll not let himself
get worked up about England until the job with Liverpool is done.

And Carra also had a word about the Liverpool official FA Cup song, the
remake of Johnny Cash’s ‘Ring of Fire’. Carra made sure the press were
aware who the song belongs to: “Freddie Flintoff tried to take it for
the cricket, didn’t he, but we’ve got it back now.” If you’ve not done
so already, go across to the official Liverpool FC website and download
the track – if you do you’ll be helping the Marina Dalglish appeal and
also doing your bit to get the song to number one.