He knew where he should have been. He wanted to be there. He just couldn’t get there…

By Sam Mathius

Robin van Persie’s first goal at Anfield earlier this month was a sign of a something all Liverpool fans fear: an aging Jamie Carragher. Against the run of play, a good ball into the box from Bacary Sagna was easily dispatched by the Dutchman who out-muscled Carragher despite being well marked. If any moment summed up Jamie Carragher’s status at Liverpool it was that moment. Sharp in reading the game, body to body with Van Persie, but unable to beat the in-form and younger striker physically.

It’s hardly the first evidence we’ve seen of the legend losing a step this season. Admittedly, it’s partly due to fantastic form and health from Skrtle and Agger that have kept him off the field but Carragher has still only featured in 21 games this season. That includes just 13 in the league.

Of all the defenders who have started in a red shirt at least five times this season, Carragher has the worst tackle success rate with just a 62.5% success rate. That may be the least troubling number when we consider just when Carragher’s career will drop the last grains of sand in the hour glass. That number would be the most unlucky of them all: 13. That’s the age difference between him (34) and Sebastian Coates (21). The young Uruguayan has been waiting in the wings this season and has only featured twice. Standing in his way between more minutes is Carra. Despite a terrific Copa America last summer in which he was named Best Young Player of the tournament, his playing time has been limited. Perhaps that’s a good thing for a young defender thrust into the world’s fastest league, at such a high-profile, high-pressure club. A year in the reserve team is probably a good way to let his feet settle.

But what comes next? Who backs up Skrtle and Agger next season? Do we let Carragher continue to cover while a young Coates sits? It’s a tough question and one that will surely keep Kenny Dalglish awake at night. Carragher’s status as one of the clubs best ever players will never be in doubt, but following a number of high profile mistakes this season from the old stall-worth, Dalglish may have cause for concern.

Ultimately it should come down to football ability. Whoever is in the best form and gives the team the best chance to win should be number three in the pecking order. Still, several factors make this a touchy issue to deal with. Jamie Carragher is a legend at the club. Who can forget the cramps he fought through in Istanbul only to get up and make more runs and more sliding tackles? Who can forget the numerous times he’s had to wrap up a gash or taken a knock only to play on? Nobody has ever given as much for the club as he has. Whatever he lacked for in skill he made up for with heart and intelligent play and he remains one of my favorite ever players, even writing this article slightly breaks my heart.

Another point of contention that makes Carragher’s future such an unsavory topic is that he could very well be a terrific manager for the club one day. Many fans would be hopeful that somewhere down the line, Carragher and Gerrard team up for a management super team. I doubt he would ever be able to hold a grudge against the club or Dalglish for trying to phase him out as a player but the topic is definitely one that Carra does not want to address — just ask Andy Burton.

He’s a personality who at times is as stubborn as the defense he’s ushered and led for nearly two decades. He won’t go quietly, nor should he. Handling the situation in a way that could disrespect Carra is far from being in the best interests of the club and something I doubth Liverpool would ever do to him. Look at the effect Andre Villas-Boas had in the Chelsea changing room while he benched Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard for key matches. The situations may be vastly different but it’s still evident of what shunning a legend can do: anything but good.

He’s not washed up. He’s not spent. He still has a lot to offer. His display against Manchester United in the FA Cup was superb and proved he can still organize a defense. Undoubtedly that experience and tactical prowess pays dividends at Melwood in ways that we don’t see.

His display against Arsenal needs to be put in context as well. Sure, Carragher couldn’t mark Van Persie for both of Arsenal’s goals. Most defenders haven’t been able to mark Van Persie this season to be honest. Where the first goal could have been defended, the skill-full volley dispatched by the Dutchman for his second was a thing of beauty… well… a thing of beauty for another club that plays in red. The best of defenders would have been unable to prevent it.

Still, the decline is noticeable. Jamie Carragher’s best days are behind him.

For older Liverpool fans the anxious feelings may not exist. Legends come and go. But for those like myself who watched Liverpool for the first time in 2002, it’s a tough time.

They say legends never die. They never told me they can still get old.

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