With his career seemingly winding down since Rafa Benitez's last days, it was a widely-held assumption that Brendan Rodgers would have no use for an "old-school" center back upon his arrival in the summer of 2012. I certainly thought so, and the first weeks of Rodgers's Red reign seemed to validate such thinking. Jamie Carragher was largely relegated to Europa League matches, with Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger the new boss's preferred partnership. Limited to scraps of playing time in the Prem, the justifiably proud veteran decided the time had finally arrived to call it quits.
It's a funny world we live in however, and no sooner had Carra decided to hang'em up than Rodgers finally lost patience with Skrtel's frequent blunders in a position that demands absolute concentration at all times. Back in the team, Carragher not only brought the vocal leadership and fearless tackles we'd seen over his past 500 appearances, but also a comfort in possession we didn't know existed. Old Faithful still managed to surprise us after all these years.
So, while Carragher had fully earned the right to retire whenever he chose, it was disappointing to see him go while he clearly had more to give. Then again, there are few things more sobering than a legend who sticks around too long and, with Liverpool finishing mid-table once again, it was hard to blame the world's only likable Toffee for saying time was time.
The Reds moved swiftly to replace Carragher and Rodgers wrapped up the free transfer of Kolo Toure before the summer window even officially opened. A Premier League champion with both Arsenal and Manchester City, the Ivorian was signed largely to provide the intangibles Liverpool lost through Carragher's exit. Again, things don't always go to plan and with Skrtel seemingly on the outs and Mamadou Sakho joining late in August, Toure started the year alongside Agger in central defense.
The former Gooner performed admirably and expectations were raised. Yet, as Liverpool's expectations have risen over the course of the season, Toure's performances have moved in the opposite direction. Always short for a center back, Toure has been bullied in the air this campaign and, of much greater concern, the battle-tested defender has made a string of mental errors to put Liverpool's unlikely title charge under threat.
The back pass against West Brom (woof) still stings as it was the last time Liverpool failed to gain all three points in the league. Then, after the 5-1 thumping of Arsenal, Toure's own-goal against Fulham put the Reds behind the eight-ball, only for a late Steven Gerrard penalty to salvage the full points.
So, eight wins in a row later and the Merseyside Marauders fighting for the club's first Premier League trophy. Much talk has been made of the now-retired Carragher and his missing a chance at the only honor that eluded him during his distinguished career. I think we could all agree that any Liverpool fan would be desperate for the old man to grab his Holy Grail but this past weekend's victory over West Ham brought a moment I hadn't expected.
With the Reds trying to hang onto a 2-1 win away to Sam Allardyce's rugby squad, Rodgers brought on Toure to help batten down the hatches moving towards full-time. As Toure entered, I instinctively muttered, "Where the hell is Jamie Carragher when you need him?" For once, I was lamenting Carra's retirement not for his own loss of Liverpool's unexpected title push but for what he actually brought to the squad.
The Reds saw the game out and, beautifully, sent Big Sam home disappointed but the point remains. Considering Liverpool's injury woes in the defensive corps and Toure's inconsistent form, my lamenting over Carragher's absence was long overdue. Sky's newest pundit may have lost a few steps over the years and his game was never all that pretty in the first place. Yet, with the Big Red Ship pushing for the long-sought EPL crown, that Carragher's ability on the field is what's missed most is the highest compliment you can pay the Boy from Bootle.