Carragher content to fill in where necessary

Sam Wallace finds there is much to admire in the Liverpool defender who combines engaging modesty with burning ambition
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The Independent Football

Carragher said something unusual for an England player this week. He said that he accepted that he would not be given the chance to play in his favoured position - at centre-back - but that if he was asked to fill in for either of the two injured full-backs then it would be a " great honour" for him to do so.

The old Scouse warrior may be a European champion but he has never been prone to the belief that he is owed a place in any team. Just as he fought for a regular place in the Liverpool team under Gérard Houllier, changing positions to accomplish it, Carragher takes no offence in having to the same for his country. And as Rio Ferdinand slipped down the hierarchy of centre-backs last night, Carragher at least found himself a step closer to a place for his country in the position he favours.

He would admit that the defeat to Northern Ireland was not his finest performance but then he probably still out-performed Ferdinand, and tomorrow against Austria he will, most likely, come in at left-back for the injured Ashley Cole. His place in the middle of the England defence will be automatically handed back to Terry, part of the Chelsea team that conquered Anfield last Sunday, and Carragher said that he had no argument with the reinstatement of the Stamford Bridge captain.

"A magnet between his ears," was the phrase with which Carragher summarised the aerial prowess of Terry at Liverpool last Sunday and this from someone who probably had the most reason to be aggrieved with Chelsea. There were angry words exchanged between Carragher and Lampard before the Chelsea penalty, though Carragher laughed off the encounter by maintaining that he had only been offering his former Under-21 room-mate a little bet which he had subsequently paid out on. Shouting the odds taken to a new extreme.

"Every time the ball went into the box Terry was there, heading everything away," Carragher said. "Last season I voted for him as player of the year and if he keeps going the way he is, I'll probably be voting for him again.

"No, it doesn't annoy me [that Terry will take his place]. The performance JT put in at Anfield on Sunday was outstanding. Rio and JT are actually a bit younger than me, Sol's a bit older, but they're players I look up to as well. I was in the Euro 2004 squad 18 months ago and I was sat in awe watching Sol's performances. Rio was probably one of the best players, if not defenders, at the last World Cup.

"That shows the competition and I've got no qualms about that. I know how good these players are and I'm delighted, whenever the squad's picked, just to see my name amongst these players. Being asked to play in different positions doesn't faze me. My most comfortable position is at centre-back but there's a lot of competition and to get a game for England anywhere is a great honour for me."

There are brief moments at Anfield - when the volume of the crowd falls low enough to allow the players to be heard - when Carragher's unmistakable voice can be heard directing operations. It is a senior role that he will probably never get the chance to secure at international level.

The 27-year-old prickled only once when he was asked what it was like to play in a team of Premiership also-rans and reminded the questioner that those particular also-rans had also ended up with the European Cup. If Sunday's heavy defeat to Chelsea suggested that Liverpool have some distance to go before they match the Premiership champions, then May's victory has taught the team that they can have an accomplishment to their name that entitles them to look any opponent in the eye.

A devotee of football, and an authority on the game all over Europe, it was instructive to hear that Carragher has been encouraged by Rafael Benitez to watch videos of the great Milan team of the late 1980s and early 1990s. If there is a future for him one day as the veteran Franco Baresi figure of Liverpool's back four, then Benitez is surely the man to coax it from him - and the omission of Ferdinand will tell Carragher that, at the very least, the longer he keeps knocking on England's door, the greater the chance that it will open.

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