Friday, May 17, 2013

Carragher Reveals His One Liverpool Regret

Jamie Carragher will bring down the curtain on a career which has seen him pull on the famous red shirt of Liverpool over 700 times on Sunday.

Carragher will lead the team out at Anfield to face QPR in what will be his 737th and final game for the Anfield outfit.

The former England centre-back has collected an impressive set of honours in his long career, but there's one thing missing.

Speaking to LFCTV Carragher admitted: "I wish I'd have won the league. We've never won the league, which is a disappointment."

Despite his disappointment at having never lifted the Premier League trophy, Carragher had no doubt about the highlight of his Anfield career.

"Istanbul, nothing will beat that - the Champions League final," he unsurprisingly summised.

"We've won FA Cups, Carling Cups, the Uefa Cup but nothing compared to the Champions League.

"It's the biggest and best trophy that you can win as a footballer in club football."

Carragher will remain involved in the game, and next season will take up a punditry role with Sky Sports, having last summer featured on ITV's coverage of Euro 2012.

He'll be joined in the Sky Sports studio by a former rival in the shape of ex-Manchester United captain Gary Neville.

And, ahead of the transition from player to full-time pundit, another retiring football legend has spoken of his admiration for the boy from Bootle.

"He's absolutely a player I admire. He's the epitome of a loyal, dedicated player who Liverpool have been lucky to have for more than a decade. I love him," said departing Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson on LFC.TV.

Reds Open To Carragher Return

Liverpool chairman Tom Werner has said there will always be a job for Jamie Carragher at the club as the defender prepares to play his final game before retiring this weekend.

The 35-year-old will make his 737th Reds appearance against QPR on Sunday before moving into television punditry with Sky Sports next season.

However, Werner said the club would welcome back former England international Carragher, who has spent his entire playing career at Anfield, with open arms.

"We wish Jamie well in his new career and the door will always be open for him at Liverpool," he told the Liverpool Echo.

"I really hope we see him back at the club one day because with all that experience and knowledge we know he has so much to offer.

"Whether it's as a coach, an analyst or whatever, there will always be a job for him here.

"We hoped he would play on for another season but we fully respect his decision to retire.

"He wants to leave the party before the last call and I understand that.

"I have nothing but admiration for him - both on and off the field.

"It's a big challenge to try to replace him. He's a unique individual and I think finding another player just like him will be impossible."

Sir Alex Ferguson Admits His Love Of Jamie Carragher

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has admitted that he loved the way Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher plays his football.

Both Carragher and Ferguson will retire on Sunday and the Scot told LFC TV of his admiration for the defender.

"He's absolutely a player I admire," Ferguson said. "He's the epitome of a loyal, dedicated player who Liverpool have been lucky to have for more than a decade.

"He's been a bedrock of their defensive qualities for years and years.

"I loved him. He's a fantastic example for any young lad that wants to play the game. He's been a really, really good professional.

"He's absolutely the type of player a manager wants. I used to rave about Brucie [Steve Bruce] and the nine years he had with us, and I think Jamie Carragher is that exact same mould - can play with injuries, gets knocked about and gets back up, hardly misses a game.

"You're lucky to have players like that. I was lucky to have Steve Bruce and he is the same type of player. A fantastic player."

Manager Merry-Go-Round Increases Expectation For Liverpool

Brendan Rodgers is still learning. That, an admission from the Liverpool manager himself this week, is confirmation of something evident to all in the early days of his Anfield career. Whether he truly has learnt over the past nine months, and what has been learnt in that time, is a debate set for the summer. It will take months to conclude -- there is little need to start it prematurely.

But the acknowledgement alone shows that Rodgers' first season has been an education of some sort: honesty is always appreciated more than gasconading and glorifying, after all. The Northern Irishman has been keen to label good players as great and to call promising performances as exceptional -- but that penchant to aggrandize has now become an acceptance of flaws this season, painting a picture of mortality and the fragility that accompanies being Liverpool manager.

How fragile Rodgers must have felt at times this season, even if there was no discernible sign of it. To be regarded as a worthy Liverpool manager is not just about winning matches; success is not simply defined on either acquiring trophies or finishing in the top four of the Premier League, depending on where priorities lie. There is far more to managing Liverpool than simply managing a squad of players.

Every word, spoken or not spoken, is forensically examined. How you dress, talk and interact with players on the touchline is open to analysis, sometimes even mockery. There are traditions to adhere to, a culture over half-a-century old to integrate into immediately.

This is Anfield, the sign says. This is not Swansea, where he encouraged supporters to dress as Elvis Presley on the final day of last season; any suggestion of fancy dress shenanigans would be met with derision and disbelief at Anfield. This is not Watford or Reading, where pride in defeat is seen as a virtue. Defeat is not an option, rightly or wrongly, at a club like Liverpool.

That is not to disrespect Swansea, Watford or Reading -- indeed, the stiff upper-lip and draconian nature of the Kop is not something to always celebrate. But this highlights the vast canvas which must be covered when at a club like Liverpool. It becomes even harder to do it at the first attempt.

Some of this is out of Rodgers' remit -- something he has learnt that as the season has progressed. It is not only about how his side perform, but how his rivals perform alongside them. Focusing on training and coaching the team, as once uttered infamously by Rafael Benitez, is no longer enough.

Comparisons are made consistently between his first year in charge and that of Andre Villas-Boas' as Tottenham manager; periods are defined in relation to how well they match up to rivals Everton; no matter where they finish and with how many points, it will still be lower than Manchester United.

It is a tricky juggling act for the manager, particularly with extra problems thrown at him from those who watch with one eye red-tinted and the other green. The past 10 days has tossed him a few more things to keep airborne in this never-ending circus.

All expectations of next season have been jolted, the landscape of the league viciously shaken: Manchester United will have a new manager for the first time in 26 years, and with it, an uncertainty about how the predecessor will follow Alex Ferguson; less money, more problems for Everton as well, who go through the same process as United, albeit with David Moyes sitting in his dugout for just 11 years.

With Roberto Mancini also gone from Manchester City and Chelsea waiting to appoint Jose Mourinho, four of this season's top six will have new managers in August. For Liverpool and Rodgers -- whose desire for the top six and more is matched only by its necessity -- this changes everything. Maybe.

It would be easy to overstate the importance of the fluctuating dugout dynamic, a summer-long game of musical chairs to the tune of breaking news and hysteria.

Perhaps Moyes will grasp the baton of hellfire and run twice as fast as Ferguson; maybe Mancini's absence will settle Manchester City rather than unsettle and Mourinho will stabilise, not destabilise at Stamford Bridge. Everton, meanwhile, might find another manager capable of squeezing every resource from their small squad, but also end their 18-year trophy drought.

Ifs, buts, maybes. It is that uncertainty that provides Liverpool a bigger incentive than ever before to find the consistency that has been lacking for years; a gap, no matter how small, to target.

They, more than most, will know what instability can do to a club and how it can stagger the status quo. What came to be regarded as the Premier League's top four in the late 2000s was dismantled under the ownership of Tom Hicks and George Gillett, a reign akin to a troublesome toddler picking the legs from a prone spider, each yank another step back from where the club once was and wanted to be once more.

The shake-up at the top is an opportunity for Liverpool, perhaps -- but yet, potential hindrance for Rodgers as well. Expectancy from the Liverpool fans has been raised now that Ferguson, he of 38 trophies, has been replaced by the trophy-barren Moyes. The tightrope Rodgers has walked for the past year just became tighter but shorter; the juggling act has now become far more intricate with less room for failure.

This is what it is like to be a Liverpool manager in recent times. Even after a 3-1 win at Fulham, eyes were cast elsewhere. Thoughts turned to the potential fall of United and Everton over the next year, five years, decade; thoughts, inevitably, turned to whether Rodgers is the one who could take advantage of a hypothetical collapse from above. In a summer of debate, this will be another one. Some may even call for him to be replaced -- nothing new there, though nothing will come of it. Fenway Sports Group fully support their man.

The compelling counterpoint comes in recognizing the benefits consistency brings. It's not as if Liverpool has thrived since a revolving door was seemingly installed outside Melwood, after all. While four of the six teams above them adjust to new regimes, Liverpool is a side that have started to adjust -- they have lost just two games in the past 15 and embraced a new-found pragmatism. Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho's January arrivals have also aided a clear improvement from a poor start.

Consistency is good, but being consistently good is what will define next season. It might even imperative for Rodgers. This summer's transfer window looked to be a significant one for Liverpool, but now it appears of optimum importance.

In this upcoming climate of potential uncertainty and possible transition, the gap between Liverpool and the top four -- currently 11 points -- can be overhauled. But within the melting pot of Mancini, Manuel Pellegrini, Moyes and Mourinho, there are no guarantees bar one: Rodgers, his squad and the club in general will be expected to overhaul that gap regardless of how others perform.

That presents a rare moment for him to simply worry about what he does with his players, for no one can predict what is to come from most of the teams above him. If he is to learn one thing now, it is to enjoy such strangeness while he can, because there will be great expectation upon him and his side next season.

Liverpool Set To Sign £3.5m Ilori From Lisbon

Liverpool is closing in on a £3.5million deal for Sporting Lisbon defender Tiago Ilori.

Sportsmail revealed last month that Brendan Rodgers was stepping up interest in the young Portuguese who had been identified a year earlier by club scouts.

However, the 20-year-old's valuation has quadrupled since that first recommendation after he broke into Sporting's first team and established himself as one of their most consistent performers.

Valencia has also made enquiries but Liverpool hope their strong relationship with the Portuguese will help close the deal quickly.

A defensive recruit has been one of Liverpool's priorities since Jamie Carragher announced he is to retire after the final game of the season.

Liverpool Target Callum McManaman & James McArthur

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers could swoop for Wigan stars Callum McManaman and James McArthur this summer, after the club was relegated from the Premier League.

Wigan dropped down to the Championship after a cruel defeat at Arsenal, just days after their heroic victory over Manchester City in the FA Cup.

But the top-flight sharks already appear to be eyeing up bids for Wigan's more talented players, principally British duo Callum McManaman and James McArthur.

Liverpool are thought to be leading the charge for the attack-minded pair, who have attracted a host of suitors this season having performed admirably in a struggling Latics side.

Reds boss Brendan Rodgers was in attendance at the Emirates on Tuesday night to have a closer look at Roberto Martinez's team, having been particularly impressed by McManaman's man of the match display at Wembley on Saturday.

McArthur has also been watched by Arsenal and Chelsea scouts this campaign, while Sir Alex Ferguson was a known admirer of the Scot at Manchester United.

It may prove difficult to hold onto McArthur given his greater experience than McManaman, while the 22-year-old winger could stay at the DW Stadium if Martinez does having revealed a personal debt of gratitude to the Spaniard.

But the coveted Wigan boss insisted the Greater Manchester club will not be forced into cut-price deals for any of their players, but admitted some will want to move on.

"You cannot stop a player from going to a different level," said Martinez. "What you can affect is the value and timing. We are not in a position where we have to balance the books."

Liverpool Want Tello In Exchange For Reina

Liverpool is set to demand Cristian Tello in exchange for Pepe Reina should Barcelona coming knocking in the summer, according to reports.

The Mirror reports that Barca are keen to land Reina this summer with Victor Valdes reluctant to sign a new deal at the Nou Camp and says that Rodgers will only listen to their advances if Tello is up for grabs.

Tello, regarded as a coming man in Spanish football, can operate both as a central striker or wide attacking player - exactly the versatile sort of forward Rodgers is looking to recruit for the Reds this summer.

The 21-year-old has a release clause in his contract priced at around £8.5million, and, after failing to force his way into the starting line-up at Barca on a regular basis this season, will seriously consider his options in the summer.

Barcelona have indicated they are ready to spend as much as £10m to ensure they bring Reina back to a club he graced as a youngster.

They also say a the deal is likely to be decided by Tello depending on where he sees his future after just 11 starts this campaign.

Carroll Earns England Recall For Friendlies

England manager Roy Hodgson recalled Andy Carroll to his squad on Thursday for friendlies against Ireland and Brazil after the striker's recent good club form.

The 24-year-old, who has not been involved in the national set-up since October's World Cup qualifier in Poland when he was an unused substitute, has recently scored four goals in six games for West Ham United where he is on loan from Liverpool.

"In a squad of players you need various qualities," Hodgson told a news conference after announcing a 22-man squad for the May 29 match against Ireland at Wembley and June 2 game in Rio de Janeiro.

"For a long time we didn't consider Andy Carroll because he was injured but since he's come back from injury he has been very much in our thoughts and he is the type of player who gives us another dimension."

As Hodgson prepared for life without newly retired defenders John Terry and Rio Ferdinand, he also needed to find a stand-in captain for these games in the absence of Steven Gerrard who has undergone shoulder surgery.

"(Frank) Lampard and (Wayne) Rooney are the sort of captains elect but I did mention to a group of journalists...that obviously I will speak to Ashley Cole, he's receiving his 100th cap," Hodgson said.

"Most players when they receive their 100 caps do get given the honour of captaining the country but the last time I spoke to Ashley about it he was more than happy to stay in the shadows rather than seek the limelight but out of courtesy of course I'll definitely speak to him again."

Hodgson was not concerned that Rooney's club situation might affect his commitment to England, saying the Manchester United striker's transfer request was between the player and club only.

"I'm sure I'm going to be dealing with a highly motivated player and a player who is more than ready physically and mentally to take on the challenge of these two games," the manager said.

There was a surprise call-up for 23-year-old Reading goalkeeper Alex McCarthy, who has played for the Under-21s and takes his place in the squad alongside fellow keepers Joe Hart and Ben Foster.

Being in the group of 22 did not necessarily mean he would see any action, Hodgson said.

"I regard them more as preparation games than friendly games. It's important for us to prepare and as a result in this squad I have decided not to take one or two more senior players whom I know well and know exactly what they can do," he said.

"I'm more interested in this squad to give the players I think might be important for us in the (2014 World Cup) qualifiers in September and October a chance to really play and not to have a situation where in every game you are trying to use 18 players, people who instead of playing long periods are getting only a little 15 to 20-minute cameo."