In the era of the £250,000-a-week footballer, who wouldn’t want to be a Premier League star? Well, Jamie Carragher for a start. “I’m glad I’m not a player today,” says the former Liverpool and England defender and, for the past two years, Sky Sports pundit. “I’m proud of the Premier League and how big it’s become worldwide and that the players, the stars of the show, are so high-profile. More than ever before they’re like rock stars or film stars. Unfortunately, that’s a problem, because we all get it wrong sometimes. So I’m also glad that social media wasn’t around when I was their age.”
Rather than envy his successors their salaries, the 38-year-old Merseysider – one of the rare players to stay with one club for all of his career – believes that in the age of Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter, they are under more scrutiny than he ever knew. “The financial rewards are much greater now, but so are the responsibilities, and the players should be aware of that. But outside the game, I think people have to realise that they are young people and they will make mistakes.”
Carragher is very much a hero at Anfield, lauded still for the crucial part he played in Liverpool’s thrilling comeback in Istanbul in 2005 to beat AC Milan in the Champions League final, after fighting back from 3–0 down – “the absolute highlight of my career”, he says
This Sunday he’ll be a key part of the Sky Sports team when his old club take on Manchester City in the final of the Capital One Cup – which he won three times with Liverpool. He admits his heart will be in a red shirt. “The game is a lot bigger for Liverpool than for Manchester City. They’ll have their eyes on other prizes this season, the big ones, but Liverpool haven’t won much over the past seven or eight years. Sunday is huge for them.”
Although Carragher is having his best suit pressed (“Cup finals are all about the suits”), he insists, “Nothing beats walking out onto the pitch for a big game. It’s much more nerve-racking than the first time you do live TV.”
Sky Sports brought Carragher to the screen in the hope it would revive some of his heated on-field rivalry with former Manchester United and England right-back Gary Neville. But before Neville left Sky in 2015 to take up the role of head coach at Spanish club Valencia, they seemed more like pals than opponents.
“I think that’s fair,” says Carragher. “Now and again we’re at each other’s throats, which isn’t the worst thing in the world, but we did enjoy working together. Gary was a mentor to me, a massive help. He gave me the benefit of his TV experience and advice on what mistakes to avoid. I hope we can rekindle that partnership.”
Neville’s early return to TV punditry has looked increasingly likely (Valencia finally won just before we spoke). Would Carragher offer him any advice? “Oh no!” he says, seemingly shocked at the very idea. “I’m not giving him any advice, I’m sure he’ll be fine. I’ve spoken to him a couple of times, but certainly no advice.”
Many football managers have become successful pundits, but Neville’s La Liga experiment suggests it isn’t always so easy going the other way.
“They’re absolutely different jobs,” says Carragher. “A lot of it is analysing football, and watching football, but there are a lot of differences. There’s no guarantee that Gary or anyone else will be good at managing, or a poor manager. You just don’t know. But I think we’ll look back in 20 years and say Gary did well.”
And if Liverpool do well in the Capital Cup final on Sunday, how does Carragher think they’ll be celebrating?
“Well, if you’re a player, the Capital One Cup comes so early in the season you have to be careful. When I won, it was back to the hotel for dinner and a few drinks, then work again the next day.”
How about after winning the Champions League final, at the very end of the season?
“Now that,” says Carragher, “really is a party.” Just as well there was no one around with a camera phone to record it.