Carragher tipped to go from Bootle boy to Boot Room

Roy Evans backs the Anfield rock to be a future first-team coach, while his testimonial with Everton sees Owen back in Liverpool red
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The Independent Football

If it takes something special to bring together the two halves of Merseyside football, it takes something extraordinary to persuade a Manchester United player to don a Liverpool shirt. Yet that is how they regard Jamie Carragher at Anfield and that is why Michael Owen will be turning out at his original stamping ground next Saturday for his old team-mate's testimonial.

Roy Evans, Carragher's first manager, goes so far as to use the word "legend" of the player to whom he gave his debut as an 18-year-old. "It is great for a lad who comes from within the city to go there and become a legend, as he has now," said Evans, now assisting John Toshack with the Wales team. "It is more difficult for a centre-half to shine. Steven Gerrard takes a lot of the limelight but Jamie Carragher has been a rock for so many years now, and not just on the football pitch but off it."

As befits the Bootle boy who once replied to a question about joining a bigger club with the words "Where's bigger than Liverpool?", Carragher's testimonial will be a Scouse affair, with all proceeds going to local charities. That is no surprise given Carragher's commitment to the city – he has a Liverpool-based charity, the 23 Foundation, and co-owns two sports-themed restaurants – and nor is his choice of opposition with David Moyes bringing over an Everton XI. Everton are Carragher's other club; the "us" that became "them", as his autobiography notes, and the team he enjoys beating the most.

That conversion is one example of how misleading first impressions have proved with the 32-year-old. This is a boy who wore a blue shirt at Liverpool's School of Excellence but became a Kop icon with over 600 appearances. This is also the teenage scally held up as a model of how not to behave by a headmaster at the old FA School of Excellence at Lilleshall – "We're not going to have another James Carragher here," Michael Owen was told – but who became one of the most thoughtful footballers of his time.

You could add how he started his career masquerading as a scoring midfielder, netting on his first League start against Aston Villa in January 1997. Jamie Redknapp, who will feature in Saturday's testimonial, played alongside Carragher that day and concedes that he "didn't think he would become one of the world's best defenders". Where Owen and Gerrard had immediate star quality, "Jamie was different, he had to really work hard at his game," Redknapp explained. "There were one or two that were maybe technically better but there was not a player with a bigger heart or who wanted it more. He developed his upper-body physique and became very difficult to push off the ball. Once he gets his arms and body in front of the forward, it is very difficult. You rarely see him lose a 50-50."

Redknapp added: "It goes back to something you cannot buy which is how much you want it. I think [of] the [2005] Champions' League final when he was out on his feet and had cramp but was making tackles, interceptions, throwing his body in the way of shots."

The Kop may "dream of a team of Carraghers" these days but it was not always so: after conceding two own goals against Manchester United in 1999, he lost his preferred centre-back slot for five years.

Even today, by his own admission, Carragher remains driven by self-doubt. He began this season with the man-of-the-match award for a typically defiant display for 10-man Liverpool against Arsenal – inspired, he revealed afterwards, by Gary Lineker's suggestion that his legs had gone. Redknapp, a Sky Sports HD match expert, disagrees. "I think the whole team were struggling last year and it affected everybody. I don't sense a deterioration in his game at all."

Carragher was never the quickest but his reading of the game is such that Evans, a Bootle boy himself, would like nothing better than for his erstwhile charge to eventually follow his own path to the Boot Room. "I would like to see him go through the system like I did, take the Reserves first, then first-team coach. He's always been a talker and he has a vast knowledge of football these days and although that doesn't always make you the best coach I think he's got what it takes."