The Carragher Conundrum

Kind of a metaphor, or just really weird.

I alluded to it in my game wrap of the Arsenal match, though that came out of blind rage that the result engendered in me. After a couple days, it's probably time to try and take a more cool headed approach.

Today, Carragher, to no one's surprise, declared he had no intention of retiring. Nor should he, really. Most athletes will tell you that you should play as long as you feel like you can, because nothing will ever replace it. It's been widely predicted that Carragher will go straight into management, and I would bet good money that he will be an excellent manager. It's been well documented just how much Carra loves and is informed about the game worldwide. This isn't a guy who just plays because he's good at it and it provides him a good living. His life is football, and I'm sure that will always be the case.

But we need no further evidence of what can happen when veteran players become to entrenched and powerful than the events at Chelsea this week. Andre Villas-Boas was brought in to transition Chelsea into their next phase. There's no question that Chelsea have to get younger, as Terry, Lampard, and Drogba have carried that club as far as they're going to go now. But they balked at the idea of being phased out, made things rocky, points were dropped, and the fear of what could be lost in the transition to the next generation won out. Sure, a salvage mission for the rest of the year could see Chelsea grab the FA Cup and a Champions League spot. Hell, a furious comeback could see them in the last eight of this year's European Cup. But the changes Chelsea needed have been put off another year, and are Lampard and Terry really going to go along with it next year?

Liverpool are farther along in a more badly needed transition. We've already seen Carragher phased out, and it's generally agreed that's what had to happen.

But Carragher doesn't always go into that good night. We all remember his refusal to shift to right back at Boro in 2009, and the ensuing confusion and upheaval caused a horrific result that looked even worse when the Great Spring Charge came about. Carragher has friends in the press and isn't afraid to use them. He knows his place at the club, and hasn't hesitated to flaunt it.

Now, he's pretty much put everything on the club's management. He won't voluntarily leave. He wants to play. He thinks he should play more.

But playing Carragher regularly will hold Liverpool's transition back. Sebastien Coates and Martin Kelly are the future centerbacks whenever Agger and Skrtel aren't, whether that's down the road through age or transfer. They'll need games, and there won't be too many next season that won't be manned by the Dane and Slovak, unless of course something falls off of them (which it will with Agger, obviously). I don't feel any differently than I did after the Arsenal setback.

We all knew that Carragher's career arc would have a sharp decline. Even at his peak, Carragher's defending had a desperate, last-ditch quality to it. Sure, it was full blooded and committed, but it was always just in the nick of time. When he lost another step off pace that he never had in the first place, it didn't take a calculator, level, and tape measure to conclude it wouldn't be pretty. Same thing happened to Sami Hyypia. Even though the first two steps were always in the Finn's head, at some point it wasn't enough.

Carragher was also protected in a system, when he switched to centerback, of Rafa Benitez that generally shielded him pretty well. Ditti Hamann or Javier Mascherano were always on top of him, with Xabi Alonso not far away. Now Liverpool want to attack first again, and he would only have Lucas to shield when he's even healthy. You can't compensate enough for Carragher now.

It would kill me to see Carragher in another shirt next season, he's meant so much to the club and us supporters. There is no Istanbul without his simply indescribable performances against Juve and Chelsea. But at some point, everything ends. And I don't feel confident that Carragher can watch a great majority of games from the bench next year without rocking the boat.

Liverpool will have this same problem in a few years with Steven Gerrard too. But clubs are always bigger than players. You never see the inmates running the asylum at United. When you're of no use any more, Ferguson will move you along. It's understood that the club comes first. Liverpool have to be run the same way.

A manager and club cannot plan for success with sentimentality. It can be painful. But it's the only way.

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