“I wasn’t giving up my football career or my ambitions; only England,” wrote Jamie Carragher in his autobiography, regarding his decision to retire from international football in 2007. “I was never in love with playing for England in the first place.”
Fast forward three years and Carragher is back in the Three Lions' den, seemingly more committed to his country’s cause than ever. But what has prompted his apparent change of heart? Was he more influenced by the wooing of Fabio Capello or by the chance at another shot at the greatest prize in football?
“I think knowing that you’re in the ‘last chance saloon’ does give you an added impetus,” he told FIFA.com after the 1-1 draw with USA. “If you want to put yourself forward as a World Cup winner or do really well in the World Cup after your career has finished, it probably does give you an extra incentive.
“There are a lot of players in the squad around the 30 mark. In four years time we’ll be getting to our mid-thirties, so maybe it might be difficult to still be there in Brazil. I think the lads realise that for a lot of us anyway, it may be the last chance.”
The first game of any World Cup is massive and, to be involved in it, I was delighted.
Carragher, who is now 32, was named in England’s provisional 30-man squad for the finals and cemented his place in the final selection with a solid display in the warm-up win over Mexico at Wembley.
Injuries to Rio Ferdinand and Ledley King have since seen him move up the pecking order, and with the latter sustaining a groin injury in the first half of the opening encounter in Rustenburg, the Liverpool man came off the bench to partner John Terry in the centre of defence for his fifth taste of FIFA World Cup™ action.
“I came into the squad and realised I wouldn’t be first choice so I wasn’t sure if I was going to actually get onto the pitch and play in the World Cup,” he continued.
“I enjoyed the fact that I’d come on, and got 45 minutes under my belt. Hopefully I can be involved a little bit more, but the first game of any World Cup is massive and, to be involved in it, I was delighted.
"It isn’t easy coming on in a World Cup match at half-time, and I think we were a bit unlucky not to get the three points in the end, but a draw is not a disaster in the first game and there’s still more time to put it right.”
While many back home were dismayed to draw with USA, Carragher, a keen student of the game and one well versed in his country’s footballing history, points to the fact that a draw may not be a bad sign for England.
A goalless draw with Uruguay was the pre-cursor to England’s finest footballing moment in winning the FIFA World Cup in 1996, while more recently, 1-1 draws with Republic of Ireland and Switzerland respectively at Italy 1990 and UEFA EURO 96 did not prevent the team reaching the semi-finals.
He said: “The first game is always very tough, but the last three tournaments we’ve done best in - 1966, 1990 and 1996 - we didn’t win the first game either so that’s something to look at and to look at positively. We need to realise that the first game isn’t the be all and end all – there’s still a long way to go.”
England now face Algeria in Cape Town on Friday, with a draw or a defeat not considered good enough by the players and public alike.
“The aim is to come out of the group, hopefully top the group and that’s still the objective,” concluded Carragher. “It would have been great to get the three points against USA but I think everyone realises that in the first game, it’s very important not to lose as well. A good win over Algeria is important.”