Bootle's Baresi is leaving a tough act to follow at Liverpool
By Richard Buxton
To speak about Jamie Carragher with those that worked with him during his formative years in Liverpool's much-vaunted youth academy, to a man, they will tell you of a player with great commitment, courage and determination, before summarising simply with "but that's Jamie".
It speaks volumes of a player who has gone above and beyond the call of duty at Anfield over the past 16 years and has done so with his name adorning the back pages of newspapers during his career - if at all - prior to his announcement earlier this week of his plans to retire.
His honour roll reads almost identically like his predecessors both in Liverpool's defence and the youth set-up from which they graduated, were it not for the notable absence of a league championship medal, although not for the want of trying, in the 2008-09 season.
Had he been born a decade or so prior, he would have comfortably found himself lapping the Anfield pitch with those names of yesteryear as part of those near-annual paradings of English football's Holy Grail.
He is very much a throwback in an era where defenders are expected to be adventurous by default. Such is Carragher's stringent loyalty to his duties that a regular joke in previous years at Anfield was that he would suffer a nosebleed if he ever ventured beyond the halfway line.
A 'team of Carraghers', as the Kop continue to dream, would possess more than enough steel to drag Liverpool over the line, but his versatility in all departments would be equally effective, contrary to the 35-year-old's insistence that such a side would provide uninspiring results.
But, again, that typifies the character of a man whose roots have remained in Marsh Lane and the local area in which he honed his abilities over the best part of two decades.
For all his modesty, admirers have not been in short supply with former Liverpool defender Alan Hansen hailing him a better defender than the title-winning captain was in his heyday while AC Milan legends Paolo Maldini and Franco Baresi have also paid glowing tributes. Small wonder why he has been dubbed 'the Bootle Baresi' by some in light of such praise.
Few would be willing to sacrifice their body for Liverpool as selflessly as Carragher has over; this, after all, is a player who attempted to hobble off with a broken leg and whose enduring image from the legendary 2005 Champions League final one of battle-weary cramp.
After that Istanbul final, one Italian journalist mused: '...if Carragher were Italian, we'd build entire dynasties around him', and therein lies Liverpool's biggest problem in terms of successors to Carragher; there are no realistic candidates to step up to the plate.
He has remained the designated failsafe, even when relegated to the club's third-choice defender. The stability he offered in the recent draws against Arsenal and Manchester City has been unmatched by any of his defensive peers, including those that have usurped him.
That in itself signals a concerning death knell to the club's local heartbeat, with only Steven Gerrard remaining in terms of senior players. Carragher has regularly underlined the importance of what he describes as a 'local nucleus' at Anfield but one does not appear forthcoming.
Raheem Sterling and Andre Wisdom, the two academy graduates to make regular impressions this season, both hail from outside of Merseyside while the homegrown prospects, like Jon Flanagan and Adam Morgan, do not appear ready-made for seniority.
A testing few months lie ahead for Brendan Rodgers to work with his outgoing defensive general to identify a suitable heir not only to Liverpool's back line but also as their new, definitive homegrown sovereign.
But even without the lack of readily available options, Carragher was always going to leave a tough act to follow.