Playing against Liverpool used to bring the best out of me, as did playing against Jamie Carragher because he made me work more than almost every other defender.
Jamie Carragher is a real-life action man for Liverpool
I was surprised when Jamie Carragher this week announced that he will retire at the end of the season.
I saw him play against Manchester City last Sunday for Liverpool and he was excellent. He can clearly still play at the top level, but he knows his body better than anyone and you have to respect a decision he has been thinking about for some time.
I played against him many times and it was never easy, but I was fortunate to score more goals against Liverpool than any other player, 11 in total. Only four of those were as a Manchester United player.
Playing against them used to bring the best out of me, as did playing against Carragher because he made me work more than almost every other defender.
I respect him, but I have hardly spoken to him, not even to discuss all 11 goals. I was in England squads with him, but he was with the Liverpool clique and I was in the United clique.
There was not much interaction, but I have never had a bad word to say about Carragher.
Here is why. A lot of defenders talk a good game to the strikers they are marking. They say you are not going to get a kick during the match, that you are overrated. They try to get in your head and unnerve you.
That never unnerved me. It made me more determined and made them look ridiculous if I scored an early goal or two against them.
I left the pitch against some players thinking they were jokers or idiots. I never did that with Carragher, even though he played for Liverpool.
Instead, I would leave the pitch thinking: "I really enjoyed that. I've had a proper game there, a proper battle."
Action speaks louder than words and Carragher was a man of action, a winner. He was a body-on-the-line defender who read the game well. He was versatile and I can remember him playing in several different positions, at one stage as a holding midfielder.
When he did speak, he saved his words for his own players and you could hear him screaming and pointing to organise his team.
He was an honest player, too, tough but fair. He would not try to leave a mark on you, to be snide trying to get one up on you when the referee was not looking.
No, he would play the game to the letter of the law, he would focus. He had to do that when I played for United as he knew he was playing against a better team, but he was just as focused when I played against him for teams who were not as good as Liverpool.
I liked how he treated every opponent the same, liked it how you always knew you would have a battle with someone who always gave 100 per cent and did the best for his team.
Carragher was a super player and played for Liverpool more than 700 times. He won a treble of cups with them in 2001 and the European Cup in 2005.
I am sure he would have liked to have won the league, but I am equally sure he is happy with a European Cup and the manner in which they won it, against AC Milan.
Unlike some Liverpool players, Carragher always speaks well of Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson. He never tries to belittle United's achievements, never says they are lucky, never has his own wild conspiracies.
Instead, he has respect. His honesty might not have gone down well with every Liverpool fan, but he acknowledged that if Liverpool were to win the league then they had to get close to the standards United were setting. I always remember him saying: "That's where we used to be, that's where we need to get back to."
He is 35 now and still in good shape. That's no age to retire any more, but he has to look at how many games he will get.
I'm surprised he hasn't played as many games when Liverpool have struggled for numbers. He may have lost pace, but he has vast knowledge of the game and top organisational skills. He's more consistent that Martin Skrtel or Daniel Agger but, hey, I am not the manager of Liverpool and I do not see these players every day.
Carragher could move, he could drop down and play until he's 40, but as a one-club man, why spoil that? He has done enough to be a Liverpool legend, he's played at the highest level throughout his career, he's nothing left to prove. Good luck to him.
Andrew Cole's column is written with the assistance of European football correspondent Andy Mitten.
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