A year ago, Jamie Carragher couldn't get a foot into the starting line-up. Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel had the centre-back positions locked down, putting up performances week after week that kept Liverpool amongst the top clubs with the strongest defensive lines. Carragher spoke about how while he might be personally disappointed to not see more game time, being kept out of the line-up is a rite of passage for any footballer, as sooner or later you'll be the one relegating a teammate to the bench.
A year later and with a Player of the Year award in his trophy cabinet, it's Martin Skrtel who is starved for minutes on the pitch, replaced by the very vice-captain he'd previously exiled to a spectator's position. It's a role reversal the Slovakian obviously isn't happy with, but it's a situation he understands.
"This is what happens in football and this time it was my turn," Skrtel said. "I have to respect it and wait for my chance. And I hope my chance will come before the end of the season. Those who know me know that I will fight for my place in the team."
Having made just five starts since the beginning of January, Skrtel's performance during the first leg Europa league match against Zenit St Petersburg is generally seen as the one that resulted in his true banishment from the starting line-up, as his only other league start since that match came by default when Carragher was unfit to start against Southampton. Brendan Rodgers insisted on Goals on Sunday that the defender's form isn't to blame, though.
"I obviously wanted to go with a pairing of Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger as maybe the future at the beginning of the season and those guys have done really well," said Rodgers. "But I felt that with Carra and all the games he’s played — the cup games and any time he’s come in in the league — he’s been remarkable and I felt I wanted to put him in the team. And it was nothing to do with Martin Skrtel's performance, because he'd done well, Martin, and I felt it was more with regards to having a leader and an organizer in your back line."
Few can rival Carra's obvious vocal prowess on the pitch, of course, but nevertheless it must sting a little for a man who captains his country to be told he's incapable of leading the back line.
Skrtel certainly isn't the first in the squad this year to say that he'll fight for his place in the starting line-up, but with the constantly swirling melodramatic rumours about the departure of all centre-backs sans Agger from the club in the summer, it's unclear whether Skrtel is speaking from the heart with determination or engaging in some stoic self-preservation before a summer transfer.