Jamie Carragher speaks with such unvarnished honesty about football that it has been hard to disbelieve any of the observations which have made his return to the international scene such a welcome one. So his reflections on his first international experience in three years – the second half against Mexico on Monday night – can only be taken at face value. "Yes, it was good to be back."
But the sense of déjà vu for Carragher must have surely been unmissable when Fabio Capello delivered his team news at Wembley. The 32-year-old's apparent final straw with England came in Estonia, in June 2007, when Ledley King's name on the team sheet alongside John Terry told Carragher – who had expected to start, with Rio Ferdinand absent – that he was way down the pecking order.
The expectation was slightly different on Monday because it was the right-back position which Capello's general manager, Franco Baldini, wanted to discuss with Carragher when he first arranged a meeting after a Liverpool league match at West Ham United in January 2008, but the net effect was the same. A starting line-up in which Carragher had been touted to start as right-back, in a hint that Capello preferred the greater defensive solidity he offered, instead included Glen Johnson in that position, with King alongside Ferdinand in Terry's absence.
King's performance was not faultless – Guillermo Franco troubled the Tottenham player – but he seems to be the preferred back-up centre-half and, more significantly for Carragher, Johnson did just enough defensively to warrant the right-back's position against the United States in Rustenburg on 12 June. Capello, who never fails to extol Johnson's virtues, gave him the full 90 minutes against Mexico, and his goal – transferring the ball from left to right foot and back again before unravelling a wonderful strike – was so exhilarating that the manager must surely see him as his prime option.
Carragher must now look to England's final pre-tournament international against Japan in Graz on Sunday for an opportunity to demonstrate his worth further but he will be hard pushed to match what his Liverpool team-mate did three days ago, which will be tough on a player who has spent most of the past season at Anfield covering for Johnson when the defensive side of his game has let him down. It was typical of Carragher to conjure up the memory of another example of Johnson's attacking prowess in the immediate aftermath of the 3-1 win over Javier Aguirre's side. "I'm just thinking he scored a good goal at Bolton this season. He's a big, strong powerful lad," Carragher said.
There was no sense of a player wondering whether he has been right to come out of retirement, though, even if Carragher does not view his return with the same sense of wonderment as many who have been captivated by what was the stand-out story of the squad announcement. "It wasn't necessarily a case of memories coming flooding back [on Monday]," he said. "I played at Wembley once before about three years ago against Brazil. It's a massive occasion playing for England and Wembley's a great stadium and I haven't been there too often, so that was nice. But once the game started it was just like a normal game."
Three years on from the day he telephoned Steve McClaren's office and declared that the experience of missing out against Estonia and being posted to right-back against Brazil five days later had convinced him enough was enough, Carragher seems to feel there is more to be gained from working with Capello than purely the place in central defence which he was so often denied. The Italian is a manager who has always intrigued him. "I would have loved to work with Capello," Carragher wrote in his autobiography. "He's my idea of a football manager so whenever the lads come back from an England get-together now, I'm always quizzing them about what he's like and how he compares."
The depth of Carragher's frustration with previous England regimes is hard to overestimate. It can be summed up by the tale of what happened when a story broke about girls getting into the England team hotel in the build-up to the 2006 World Cup. Sven Goran Eriksson duly called a team meeting at which, rather than warning the players, he told them: "There's no need to have girls in the hotel. If you see someone you like, just get her phone number and arrange to go to her house after the game. Then we will have no problems."
In the circumstances, the depth of Carragher's diplomacy about the respective merits of managers past and present is remarkable. Asked if Capello was more focused than Eriksson, he said: "I think he's that type of manager but it's difficult for me to say, because I've only been here a week or 10 days with [him]. I don't think it's right to say one manager does this and it's right. If you win you are always right. Some managers are cool, some managers are aggressive, everyone's different. Everyone has their own way of winning things and different England managers do things their own way. But the reason they become England managers is because they are good managers. It's not one way is right and one way is wrong but [Capello] has his own style which has been successful over the years."
Carragher is a near certainty for Capello's 23-man squad, with Matthew Upson the player facing greater uncertainty, despite being ahead of Michael Dawson, whose lack of opportunity against Mexico suggests he will be the player to miss out next Tuesday. Upson said he was confident of an opportunity to prove something on Sunday.
"I'll just keep going in training and see where it goes," he said. "Maybe towards the [time the squad is announced] it might get a bit tougher. [But] there's nothing to be nervous about, is there? You give an account of yourself and it's out of your hands. Getting nervous about it isn't going to help."
After years of scouring England team sheets for his name, Carragher would probably agree.
How Carragher's been called upon by his country
Jamie Carragher has 35 caps for England but has only started 16 games in the 53 squads he has been called up to. Handed his debut by Kevin Keegan in the 1-1 draw against Hungary in April 1999, he replaced Rio Ferdinand at centre-back in the 62nd minute.
England career under each manager:
Kevin Keegan (1999-2000) Named in three squads, but restricted to just one substitute appearance. 3 call-ups/0 starts
Peter Taylor (2000) Came on in the 29th minute for Nicky Butt in goalless draw against Italy in caretaker manager Taylor's only game in charge. 1/0
Sven Goran Eriksson (2001-06) Selected for 39 of Eriksson's 67 squads, made 13 starts and 14 as substitute. 39/13
Steve McClaren (2006-07) In nine squads, but only five caps – two as a substitute and started just three games. 9/3
Fabio Capello (2008-2010) Back in the squad for Capello's 22nd game – second-half appearance against Mexico. 1/0
Since Carragher's curtailed international retirement in June 2007, 27 different defenders have been named in England squads, 18 have been used.