Carragher has the presence to recapture the glorious past

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The Independent Football

On the wall of the directors' guest-room at Anfield is a specially commissioned map of Europe, charting Liverpool's adventures down the years across the breadth of the continent, from Dundalk to Vladikavkaz. All the great venues are there, including the finals in Rome (twice), London, Paris and Brussels, and although Istanbul already features for an away tie with Galatasaray, the list needs updating. So, the younger generation feels, does Liverpool's history.

On the wall of the directors' guest-room at Anfield is a specially commissioned map of Europe, charting Liverpool's adventures down the years across the breadth of the continent, from Dundalk to Vladikavkaz. All the great venues are there, including the finals in Rome (twice), London, Paris and Brussels, and although Istanbul already features for an away tie with Galatasaray, the list needs updating. So, the younger generation feels, does Liverpool's history.

Jamie Carragher was six years old (and an Everton supporter) when the club last won the European Cup, and only 12 at the time of the last domestic title, in 1990. Having followed such Merseyside heroes as Ian Rush, Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman in completing the metamorphosis from Blue to Red, he is as keen as any Kopite to write a new legend by beating Milan on Wednesday.

"At this club, we always hear all the stories of the past, so in 20 years we want to bore all the young people with our stories," he declared late last week. "This club has been built on European nights at Anfield and winning European Cups, so if we can bring home the Cup for the fifth time, we keep the trophy. I think only Real Madrid and Milan have won it more times than us. When you realise that we haven't won it for 20 years, it proves how successful we were in the late Seventies and early Eighties. We want to create our own bit of history for the club."

In this cosmopolitan age of football, it is good that the opportunity to do so should be granted to a couple of local lads, and there would not be a more popular victor than "Carra", who has probably superceded Steven Gerrard in supporters' affections since the latter's dalliance with Chelsea. When a new manager came in last summer, the Bootle boy was not even sure of his place, especially once Rafa Benitez's first signing turned out to be a right-back, Josemi.

Benitez, however, had already earmarked Carragher as the man to bring some pace to the centre of defence, which suits him perfectly: "The manager had a bit of belief in me and that gave me confidence, so you go on the pitch confident in your own ability. You're more involved in the middle and there's more responsibility than being out wide."

Being close to the supporters, he is particularly aware of a sense of under-achievement in the Premiership this season, made all the more acute by Everton having taken fourth position and a place in next season's Champions' League qualifying round. Whether all the new foreign recruits understand the importance of that, or have adapted quickly enough to the rough-and-tumble of English football, is debatable; Carragher loyally turns a possible criticism into a positive by saying: "The manager is new to the Premier League, so I'm sure we'll do better next season. The players we've got, and the players he's brought in, who've done well in the Champions' League are mostly foreigners. The fact that the referees will blow for free-kicks that they wouldn't blow for in the Premier League, little things like that have helped us."

Helped beyond all expectation: "No one actually said at the start of the season what our target was in the Champions' League, but at the back of our minds, we thought if we got through the group stage, we'd just see how we go, a bit of experience for the players and make a few quid for the club, get in the top four of the League and maybe next year, go even further in the competition. So to get what we've got this season is a bonus, but we're now so close to winning the trophy."

Were it not for the performances against Juventus and then Chelsea, there might well be an inferiority complex among the Liverpool players that even Carragher hints at when reminded that the great Paolo Maldini has called him a world-class defender. "Yeah, I read that in the paper, I'm going to frame that! Just the fact that he knows who I am, to be honest." He settles for respect rather than inferiority, an attitude encouraged by Benitez. "In 20 or 30 years' time, people will still be aspiring to be as good as Maldini," Carragher said. "The fact that he's playing in his seventh final is fantastic, he's got four or five winners' medals, which just shows the experience they've got at the back, and certainly the defenders in our team look up to those kind of players. I think our manager is a big fan of the way they do things too. Their team of the late Eighties and early Nineties is something like our manager wants us to get to eventually."

The Italians have clearly marked down Liverpool as a defensive side in European games, which naturally causes a, well, defensive reaction from Carragher: "I think it's a little bit harsh, but we've had to be slightly defensive because we've only had one striker fit, Milan Baros. We couldn't even have a striker on the bench, so we've had to play five in midfield. Now the manager's got the option of playing two strikers, and we'll see whether we do that or not."

It would seem unlikely. The bonus would be if Djibril Cissé were fit enough to start in place of Milan Baros, testing the experienced but ageing Milan defenders with his pace. There is great admiration in the Anfield dressing-room for the way the Frenchman has returned with such speed and determination from a broken leg last October at Blackburn - the ground at which Carragher suffered the same fate two seasons ago.

"I've been through the same myself, but looking at the pictures, his looked far worse than mine, as bad as any I've seen. It just shows the mental strength that the lad has got to come back from that in the same season. He kept telling us he would be back before the end of the season, but you were thinking, is the physio just telling him that to keep him going or is he on a different planet?"

That would have been the accusation levelled a few months ago at anyone predicting Liverpool would be the English side flying out to Turkey tomorrow. But they are off, and Carragher insists: "We're not going just as tourists to have a look around Istanbul, we're going there to win. Who knows when we'll ever get this chance again?" It is time to update that map.

Liverpool's fab four

1976-77: Liverpool 3 Borussia Moenchengladbach 1 (McDermott, Smith, Neal pen)

1977-78: Liverpool 1 FC Bruges 0 (Dalglish)

1980-81: Liverpool 1 Real Madrid 0 (A Kennedy)

1983-84: Liverpool 1 Roma 1 (Liverpool won on pens; Neal scored in normal time, Alan Kennedy scored penalty that won it)

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