Jamie Carragher: Football’s biggest fan ready for his new Sky Sports assignment alongside Gary Neville
The former Liverpool defender always wanted to be a TV pundit. Now he tells Ian Herbert why working with Gary Neville will be fun
Some of those who know Jamie Carragher best will tell you that he has been on an inexorable path towards a TV studio. Not just because of the impromptu boyhood commentaries he’d launch into when recreating Andy Gray’s goals from Everton’s triumphs of the mid 1980s – “Gray’s there again... Oh I say!” he’d shout during his reprise of his childhood hero’s diving headers against Sunderland in 1985, a halcyon day he has particularly remembered – but because of his habit in more recent years to feel a bit narked if he misses the first three minutes of a televised game.
“I hate turning on to a game when it’s just kicked off. Drives me mad,” he admits. “It’s then going to take me then two or three minutes. I can’t watch it unless I’ve got to see who’s playing, what formation they’re playing.” So he has to press rewind, just like he’ll soon have to trawl through the newspapers that are on the table at the Café Sports bar he co-owns in Liverpool, where we meet.
Even Rafael Benitez, the definitive football anorak with his carefully labelled shelves of match DVDs, used to ask Carragher why on earth he always read them, to which Carragher replied that if a day went by without reading them or watching the sports news there was something missing. “I love to feel that no one else knows anything I’m not across,” he says now.
So here he goes at being the disseminator of the information that he always consumed voraciously, via Ian St John and Jimmy Greaves (“the show I watched that I really loved as a kid was Saint and Greavsie”) Bob Wilson on Football Focus, with John Motson and Barry Davies providing the “soundtrack to Everton’s epic victories” as he once put it, and whose words he would memorise.
The competitive rivalry between those two broadcasters was recently described by the former Match of the Day editor Brian Barwick as akin to “roundhead v cavalier” and the notion of Carragher being in the same Sky Sports broadcasting team as any Mancunian on Monday nights, let alone Gary Neville, is an equally salivating prospect.
“I wouldn’t say I socialise with Gary Neville. You wouldn’t expect that. But we’ve played together for England,” he says. “I wouldn’t say we’re close friends, perhaps that might happen through working on the show. Hopefully, it does, I suppose...”
The prospect of there being “some kind of trouble on the show” between them, as he puts it with a grin, runs up against the fact that Carragher has never taken partisanship beyond its limits.
Neville surfaces in the section of Carragher’s autobiography which articulates how Liverpool fans are “hardly blameless” in the personal abuse of players he finds unacceptable anywhere. And again when he wrote of how they would both refrain from singing the national anthems before England games. “We probably have a similar mentality and attitude to the game and the way we played,” he says. Neville has a comfortable head start on using the Sky replay technology which Carragher has been experimenting with at home this summer. Yet Carragher is the only one of the two who knows what it will be like for Manchester United’s players as they observe and assess a new manager taking over.
“I think early on you are looking at whether he is good at his job,” Carragher says. “The basic thing: is his training good? Then: who’s he looking to buy, who’s he looking to sell. You can tell by someone’s persona, the way they speak, the way they run a training session, the cut of his jib…”
Carragher has always felt that Liverpool’s own fall from the pedestal they once occupied can be located to the day Kenny Dalglish first stepped down as manager in 1991, with Liverpool’s failure to maintain his success “allowing [Sir Alex] Ferguson to take advantage.” United could conceivably cede the same territory now, he agrees.
“Of course, everyone is looking and this could be the chance for someone to claim their ground. It may or may not happen. We all know this and David Moyes will know people are looking, too and I’m sure he’s got that in mind. It will be different. It will be a change. Sir Alex [Ferguson] was a special, one-off manager, who had a major impact on Man United. How many points did he himself drag out of that team over the season? David Moyes is a top manager but he’s not Sir Alex Ferguson. Not yet. Maybe in the future. So people are looking at that and thinking, ‘We need to take advantage of that.’ It’s not about putting pressure on David Moyes. It’s just a valid point and debate.”
Some would say that Liverpool can only become capable of taking advantage when they have the kind of stadium and multimillion match-day revenues United enjoy, though Carragher is not in that number. “Liverpool also spend money,” he says. “It’s about buying better players; the right players in for the right price. Obviously the stadium means more money but the club will always generate money through history and tradition. Anfield’s always full, isn’t it?”
He has half an eye on Sunderland and Southampton for a surprise top 10, or even top eight, finish, by virtue of both Paolo Di Canio and Mauricio Pochettino having had time to assess their squads. “I was impressed with Pochettino.” Carragher has clearly always found Ian Holloway a fascinating manager and wonders aloud whether there will be less expansive, more survivalist, attitude from him after Blackpool’s 2011 relegation. He is intrigued to see how Dwight Gayle, signed by Holloway despite minimal experience outside of the non-league, will fare. Details, details...
“I think if you’re really interested in football those small details do matter to you,” he says. “One of the reasons I wanted to do this thing is that it’s not just about saying x played well, y played bad. It’s about getting into ‘why’.”
Sky Sports kicks off its biggest ever football season with 116 Premier League matches, including every club twice before December and all matches between last season’s top four. www.skysports.com/football
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