You're still the same man you always were; the same yelling, passionate defender. There are still those glorious, goal saving last ditch tackles to look forward to. At least sometimes. And there are still those clearances that get lost in the stadium lights, too, which—let's face it—are hardly a recent development. And we've had some good times over the years, even if perhaps you've lost a step along the way. But then again, doesn't everybody?
In the end it's not as though the endless hoofing and that lack of pace is some new revelation, and I'm probably the one to blame for not recognising sooner that those were the sorts of things I would have trouble living with. For thinking that you could change; or that I would change. And it's not as though I don't value that heart and passion and all those good times, because I do. It's just that they only seem to exist in the memory these days, and with every passing week those memories now only fade deeper into a past I'm no longer sure was quite so rosy in anything but the recollection, leaving but a present wherein I cannot help but feel more bitter than I'm sure that you deserve.
I know that people talk of how loyal you are to the club, and that everybody seems to feel that that loyalty is some kind of trump card. It's even been something I'll admit to having fallen back on in the past when times have gotten tough. But sometimes it's hard to wonder if that talked about loyalty truly goes both ways with anybody in football any more, or whether people are simply reading it into you because deep down they have a need for somebody to be that loyal servant to the cause. After all, there were those uncomfortable rumours two years ago that if a new first choice centre back had been brought in you would have agitated for a move elsewhere, and that Rafa's attempts to do just that were the beginning of the end of your relationship with him. That once your drive to remain the club's first choice defender after the manager had signaled it was time to begin phasing you out put an end to that relationship it was your whispers to friends in the press and on the board that helped lead to his removal and the eventual installation of Roy Hodgson as manager.
Maybe those rumours don't tell the whole story. Or perhaps there simply isn't anything to condemn in a football player putting his own career ahead of the good of the club he plays for, and instead the true failure lies in those who allowed you the power to do so rather than in you for wielding it. But it's hard not to have those thoughts bubble to the surface, whispering indictments each time another aimless hoof sails down the field. Whispering that perhaps that unquestioning loyalty so many feel, the chorus insisting that one cannot question Jamie Carragher's anointed place in the first eleven because he's Jamie Carragher, isn't a loyalty that's ever been returned in full.
And maybe next week against Tottenham you'll put in a man of the match performance. Fowler knows you've still got it in you to stretch just that extra inch to make a last second, game saving tackle every now and then. To leave all of those who die a little inside each time an unforced clearance is sent fifty yards and onto an opponent's foot feeling guilty for their wayward, doubting thoughts.
Every defender makes mistakes; every player misplaces passes. But it's a question of intent. And there's really only one thing that's different now: I notice it more. I think that change began all the way back in 08-09, when you refused to play at right back against Middlesborough and Martin Skrtel was forced into action—and forced into one of the worst performances I've ever had the displeasure of witnessing.
Now obviously that crushing loss wasn't the only difference between a Premier League title and a strong second place showing, and it would be unfair to blame you entirely for a team loss in any case. But your decision to draw a line in the sand that day, a combination of your local hero status and the lack of funds to buy a proper replacement fuelling a declaration that you were bigger than the manager and that your desires trumped what he saw as the best interests of the club does stand out as an exceptionally sore spot, a wound that is to this day hard to completely ignore. Maybe it was even the beginning of the beginning of the end, after which those attempts to find a long-term replacement—and all the negatives that stemmed from that—would begin in earnest. And maybe it was the beginning of the beginning of the end for me, too, even if I didn't fully realise it at the time.
Is there something you can do? I just don't know. More showings like Arsenal and Bolton, where you only turned the ball over with long, unforced clearances three and four times, respectively, and less like Sunderland and—especially—Stoke would always help. But when people bandy about the title hero, intellectually I can understand where they're coming from. Emotionally, though, I can't deny that there has been some strain done to our relationship in recent years; that every time a ball flies off your boot and into the opposition half I see a pauper's pantheon of idols: Purslow and Hodgson and Winter and Samuel lurking in the shadows of memory, making this latest hoof something more than just one more unfortunate punt. Emotionally, when people whisper hero and loyal and all the rest, I can't help but think back to your defensive contemporary Sami Hyypia and find you somehow lacking by comparison.
I don't want to feel this way; at times feel downright guilty that I do. But I can't change it. And I can't change that deep down, I cringe every time you receive the ball these days, waiting for what seems to be inevitable. Cringe because even if it's not this touch—even if by some miracle it isn't this match—I know the aimless hoofs will come, that they are the antithesis of the flowing football I desire, and that I can no longer bury these feelings as a part of me might still desire to. Yet I feel guilty because deep down I truly want to be more positively disposed towards a player who through years of service after coming up the ranks seems as though he should deserve to be lauded, feted, and honoured. I feel guilty because it's impossible not to when faced with a sea of shaking of heads and disappointed looks from those who believe that to even suggest Jamie Carragher is in any way unworthy of worship and devotion is sacrilege.
And perhaps, I always think, I'm not being entirely fair; not being properly objective. But like I said, it's not you, it's me. It's where I am now, and about what I want in a centre half. And I think, deep down, I've known it for some time, even if it's taken quite a while to fully admit the truth to myself. Whatever we may have once had has been over for a long time now, and it might be best for all involved to face that fact head on and try to move forward as best we can.