Jamie Carragher had booked the flights to be in Madrid with his son James on Saturday to watch the Champions League final but instead yesterday he found himself in the Austrian Alps explaining the extraordinary details of the biggest shock so far of England's World Cup.
Carragher is back in the England squad after an absence of almost three years, his international retirement interrupted and the family holiday to Disneyland in Florida next month cancelled. There are many factors that he had to weigh up when he was approached three weeks ago but in the end it came down to an opportunity that might never present itself again.
"I've been playing football since I was five years of age and in another five years I'll probably never kick a football for the rest of my life," Carragher said. "It's the chance to play at the highest level again and also – equally important – to work with the manager." The first thing to say about Carragher's return is that it is not permanent. His testimonial against Everton at Anfield is still scheduled for 4 September, one day after England face Bulgaria in a Euro 2012 qualifier in which Carragher does not expect to play any part. He always said he would reconsider his retirement in special circumstances and he regards the injuries that England have suffered in defence as exactly that.
Carragher said: "As soon as I got the call the first thing I said was I don't want to take anybody's place. I looked at the squad that had been around for the last couple of years and I saw the likes of Wes Brown and Joleon Lescott who have unfortunately got injuries. What I said was, 'I'm not stupid. I wouldn't want it to happen to me, if there was another player who came back at the last minute and took my place when I'd been building up and involved for two years.'
"There are also a couple of players who are in the squad, like Ledley [King] and [Michael] Dawson, who for different reasons haven't been involved either." Fabio Capello had tried to convince Carragher to reverse his decision on retirement, taken in the summer of 2007, when he began in the job at the start of the following year and then again that summer. Then, with injuries to Brown and Lescott; worries over Rio Ferdinand and with King's famously unreliable fitness in mind, Capello's general manager Franco Baldini made another approach last month.
"It was a shock," Carragher said. "I never spoke to anybody. It was Franco Baldini to Struan Marshall [Carragher's agent]. Struan asked me, 'Guess who I've had a call from' and I went through 10 names finishing with my dad without getting it right. First of all, you just think that someone still thinks you're good enough to play at that level. It's a bit of a boost. You go to bed that night racking your brains. I thought about the other players and how they would react if I came back into the squad. At first I only spoke to Stevie [Gerrard] because I was told it had to be kept quiet. He was desperate for me to be involved. We're best mates at the club. He would rather have me there than not, for his own sake really. He was the only one I spoke to.
"There was only Stevie and my wife [Nicola] at first because we were supposed to be going to Disneyland on Monday – so that's off. I spoke to them and then a few days later to my dad and my son and everybody was very pleased and desperate for me to go." Carragher said that there are no deals with Capello that he will definitely be in the final 23 that is selected on 1 June, much less any assurances that he will be playing centre-back or right-back in the first team. He expects to be judged not only as a footballer but "in training, at meal-times, mixing with the squad", although he is confident of making the cut.
"I'm a big follower of football and over the past 10 years Mr Capello has been the stand-out manager in world football," he said. "The two best defenders for me, probably of all time, are [Franco] Baresi and [Paolo] Maldini, and he's coached them both, told them what they needed to do. So that will make it a great education for me over the next two weeks and hopefully the month afterwards. That was one of the main reasons [to come back], to work with him. Of course I will pick things up from him. You do that with everyone. If you go into management you want to do things right.
"The reason he is at the top is because he probably gets most things right. That's someone to learn from." There will be some who will hold against Carragher the comments in his autobiography that he felt more strongly about playing for Liverpool than he ever did for England, although they were just that: the honest opinion of a man who had found his international career a bit of a slog.
"In the last World Cup, even though we got to the quarters, the whole way through the performances weren't that great," he said. "It just felt like a permanent grind, very negative really. Hopefully, it will change and this one will be different, a lot more positive, getting the results to take us further than that and better performances."
Asked how the fans might react, he said: "I don't know. I couldn't complain if there wasn't a great reaction. I look at it from a Liverpool point of view. If a player left and then came back it would take time for the supporters to maybe rally round the player, so I totally understand that."
The decision to retire was taken because he resented being overlooked even as an understudy to Rio Ferdinand and John Terry, despite having played, by then, in two Champions League finals. Now Carragher seems to feel much more at peace with the role he will play in the side. "I never thought I would be in this position," he said. "I'm glad I am here now."Reuse content