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Four-goal Faris dreams of AFC Cup final


Carragher's title regret

Jamie Carragher responded instantly when asked if he had one unfulfilled wish from his 16 years as a Liverpool first-team player. "I wish I'd won the league," he said.

There have been a couple of chances, good chances, during Carragher's Anfield career. In 2002, a superb run of 40 points from their final 15 games was not quite enough to stop Arsenal; in 2009, a few mid-winter stumbles allowed Manchester United to overhaul them, and Rafa Benitez stood accused of getting bogged down in 'facts' and losing a battle of mind games with Sir Alex Ferguson.

Otherwise, Liverpool have rarely been close during Carragher's time to winning a first league title since 1990. Asked why, his answer was typically direct.

"Very simple," he said. "We weren't good enough. Everyone. There are no fancy excuses. Other teams were better than us.

"A couple of times we went close, but one season Man United were better than us, and another season it was Arsenal. That was it."

For Carragher, the Premier League title wish will remain unfulfilled, in a career which has brought him just about every other major prize worth winning in club football. On Sunday, he will play his 737th and final Liverpool game, a league fixture against QPR.

He will end his playing career with a Champions League title, a UEFA Cup, two FA Cups and three League Cups. He will leave with no regrets.

"I've been very lucky to achieve some of the things I have," he said. "If you look at anyone, there's always something they haven't done. There's always more to achieve, whatever you've done."

Carragher didn't have to quit this summer. Manager Brendan Rodgers wanted him to carry on for one more year. The centre-back, though, feels he is getting out at the right time. The encouragement he has received for his impressive performances over the second half of the season have not swayed him.

He said: "It's made me go the other way, to be honest. It's made me think that it is the right time.

"It's nice that I'm in the side, and people are saying that I'm doing well, and that I should stay for a year. It's better than them saying that I should have gone a year ago.

"I'd prefer it to be like that and to get out while I can, because it can easily turn."

Carragher, perhaps, is aware that he might have been winding down his playing career much more quietly had Rodgers' start to life as Liverpool manager gone with fewer hiccups.

After taking over from Kenny Dalglish last June, Rodgers settled on Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger as his first choice central defensive partnership. Carragher, restricted to League Cup and European outings, made only one league start before Christmas.

But Liverpool's defence looked far from settled. Skrtel made a series of errors, while Agger's excellent form of last season had dipped.

The turning point came in an FA Cup third-round tie at Mansfield in January. Carragher, given a start, was immense in ensuring Liverpool held off a wholehearted effort by their non-league opponents, who should really have earned a replay.

Instead, Liverpool won 2-1, and went through to a fourth-round tie at Oldham. Carragher, by this stage restored to the Premier League line-up, was rested for the trip to Boundary Park. Rodgers' defence, lacking the character and presence to deal with giant striker Matt Smith, crumbled and were humiliated. Liverpool lost 3-2. From that point on, Carragher never looked likely to lose his place again.

And yet, just weeks later, he announced he would be retiring at the end of the season. "I've been quite fortunate with the timing, in that since I've announced it, I've kept myself in the side, and I can go out having played regularly," he said.

"That's something I'd prefer, rather than maybe staying another year, and being in the stand or on the bench."

Carragher leaves the Premier League as its top clubs go through a spell of transition. Ferguson and chief executive David Gill are leaving Manchester United this summer; Manchester City and Chelsea will have new managers next season.

The defender's view is that the English top flight is not as strong as it was a few years ago, but he believes it could be a much more open division next season.

Asked if Ferguson's departure from Old Trafford would open up the title race, Carragher said: "I think it does, a little bit more. He's been a top manager. His record's there for all to see. They've got another top manager in David Moyes. I'm sure he'll do a great job there.

"But I'm sure everyone's looking at it and seeing how it will go. It will maybe give other people a chance to get in there if there's a bit of uncertainty at the club, with the chief executive going as well.

"But listen, Man United are probably aware of that as well, so they'll be doing everything to stop that."

Carragher, for the first time since 1997, will be a Premier League spectator. He will leave with fond memories - the happiest of all being the comeback from three goals down to beat AC Milan on penalties in the 2005 Champions League final.

"Istanbul," he said. "Nothing will beat that, will it? A Champions League final. There's no point going over the game. I think we all know what happened that night. It would be difficult ever to top that."


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