Mick: Are Jamie Carragher and John Terry Really World Class Footballers?

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This time, COS reader Mick tries to figure out if we overrated players like Liverpool’s Carragher and Chelsea’s Terry because, well, they play a bit like us.

First off, Terry and Carragher are incredibly effective defenders. Let’s get that out of the way for those who will jump down my throat for allegedly calling them toss or something. I’m not Rufus.

There’s a long standing British tradition of “head it and kick it away” centre-halves. As the name suggests these men are supremely skilled in the art of heading away high balls, dishing out crunching tackles and making last ditch clearances. They also tend to shout a lot. Colin Hendry, Terry Butcher and the like. Two great modern examples are John Terry and Jamie Carragher, whose names have become hallowed at Stamford Bridge and Anfield respectively, both for their big-hearted performances and for being very English sounding names on increasingly foreign looking teamsheets. More cultured defenders like Tottenham’s Ledley King or Manchester United’s Rio Ferdinand have never, and will never, get the same national affection as those who regularly look like they’re hurling themselves about the pitch with reckless abandon – positional sense be damned.

But is it possible these grafting defenders like Terry and Jamie are a little overrated – especially when people start holding them up alongside those with truly world class footballing ability?

Both players sit behind very effective, very hard-working defensive midfields. Chelsea have that three centre mid formation with Makelele screening attacks like an overzealous secretary (and doing it so well they named the entire position after him) while Liverpool routinely employ the twin protection of Xabi Alonso and Momo “long legs” Sissoko. Not that Terry and Carragher are hiding behind these midfielders, just that it makes their job a hell of a lot easier. Thanks to this Fort Knox protection their job mostly consists of heading away high balls and collecting misplaced passes. Even when they get possession, the defensive midfielders are usually so deep they can relieve JT or JC of the ball, so the big fellas don’t have to worry too much about things like passing.

It’s part of the reason England are never quite as good as we expect them to be defensively. We see guys like Terry looking colossal in the Premiership, but when they go out and play for England they look merely human, and England look a little more fragile than we’d all hope. The difference is not just that international football is a different game (more about possession and concentration, less about long balls) but also that the England back four isn’t protected by the same Maginot Line (read some French history) style defensive shield, especially not when Gerrard and Lampard are tripping over each in a race to see who can get into the opposition penalty area first.

There’s a reason that Terry and Carragher only started being grouped amongst the very best at their position when managers and players were brought in to shield them more effectively.

In passioned defence of Carragher’s England tantrum and in general chit-chat about John Tery, the phrase “world-class” has been bandied about. But surely world class is when you can lead a team on your own, as Diego Maradona did in Mexico ’86, or when you’ve got jaw dropping skills a la Zidane. Carragher and Terry are both outstanding at making big headers and at putting their bodies in front of attackers, but they’re not world class footballers. Paolo Maldini was a world class footballer, Fabio Cannavaro and Lilian Thuram are world class footballers – Terry and Carragher are fantastic defenders.

If anything, we idolise them because we see a bit of our own play in what they do. Effort over genius, graft over technique and a never say die attitude that masks an compensates for inferior ability on the ball. They should be admired and respected, without a doubt, but to label them as anything related to ‘class’ really seems to be a stretch of the word.