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‘The manager was sent flying’ – Jamie Carragher reveals secret Liverpool training ground moments

Jamie Carragher gives the ECHO an exclusive look into life as a Liverpool player in training

Melwood might not be the home of Liverpool Football Club anymore, but it still holds a very dear place in the heart of Jamie Carragher.

The Reds’ training ground from the 1950s until November 2020, the defender boasts countless happy memories from his time at the base, having first broken into the first team under Roy Evans back in 1996/97.

One of many club legends to have emerged from the Liverpool academy over the years, he would make a whopping 737 appearances for the club after making his Reds debut back in January 1997, before his retirement at the end of the 2012/13 season. As a result, he played alongside many great playersacross 17 campaigns at Anfield, spending the majority of his working week at Melwood season after season.

Carragher t eamed up with fellow club legend Robbie Fowler to take ownership of Melwood in 2021, with it now being turned into a sporting and educational facility.

While not-for-profit trust Torus bought the site for an undisclosed fee back in 2019, and have recently been granted planning approval to build hundreds of new bungalows and care units on the site, the existing infrastructure will be repurposed to form the Robbie Fowler and Jamie Carragher Football Education Academy.

The ECHO caught up with Carragher at Melwood earlier this month to hear about his plans for Liverpool’s former base. But with the defender also in a nostalgic mood, he also took part in a special Q&A with the ECHO’s Theo Squires, as he revealed all about life at the Reds’ now former training ground during his playing days.

When you first started training with the Liverpool first team, who stood out as the best player in training?

John Barnes. John Barnes by a long way. I think when you hear a lot of players like myself or Jamie Redknapp or Robbie Fowler speak about John Barnes, young players who probably played with him and trained with him when he was coming towards the end of his career, but still on those training pitches every day it was like, ‘Wow!’

He was just different to everybody else. Really, really special. For me, John Barnes would probably be in the top five or six players that ever played for Liverpool.

What about if we’re talking the entirety of your Liverpool career? Who do you consider the best player in training then?

I’d put Luis Suarez at the top in terms of he trained the way he played. I was probably similar to that, I trained how I played, though obviously I didn’t have the quality of a Luis Suarez! Him and Steven Gerrard would be the two that really stood out.

Who was the most skilful player in training? So not necessarily the best player, but the one who had all the tricks and flicks?

Who was full of tricks and skills? Who was the lad, I can’t even remember his name, who was Egyptian? Actually, he might have been Moroccan. I think Brendan Rodgers signed him.

Oussama Assaidi?

Yeah, him! Where was he from? Was it Morocco, yeah? I’d say him. Look, he wasn’t great in the games but in training, he’d do bits in training that would leave you thinking, ‘Oh my god!’

Which player did you least want to face in training matches?

To be honest, this is nothing to do with quality and wanting the best player on your team. It’s more avoiding someone who would do a stupid tackle on you! Djimi Traore just couldn’t help it. But even if you were on his team, he’d still end up flying into you! You’re just thinking, ‘Oh, Djim, no!’

I didn’t used to tackle in training, really, to be honest. A Momo Sissoko or Djimi Traore were the type where you’d think, ‘Urgh! They’re going to stand on my foot or my ankle.’ You just knew they’d clip you, so I’d say those two as ones I didn’t want against me. But as I said, even when they were on your own team, you’d still end up getting f*****g injured by them!

More traditionally, I would say it would be Torres or Suarez. Especially when it was 11 v 11, I would say Torres. He loved the big spaces, me and him used to have some battles in training.

I think everyone has heard the stories of your battles with Suarez in training by now, where you’d just be shouting and kicking each other!

(Laughs) To be honest I don’t know what he’d say about that but I used to love it! We both used to train the way we would play in games. Especially when it was 11 v 11. You wouldn’t want the other to get the better of you, so it was very aggressive.

You could never complain if the other one kicked you or put you on your a**e. You’d grimace and grumble to yourself, but stiff upper lip, and just get on with it. ‘I’ll have to get him back next time!’ sorta thing. I used to love it, just looking out at these pitches (at Melwood), I just picture training sessions and games, what we did. It was great memories.

Was five-a-side still a big part of training in your day?

Yeah, we’d always have small-sided games. That’s what I lived for in training. When I say I gave everything, it was always in those games. The other bits before, I used to get through them. The different sessions, practices, and warm-ups, they were never my thing. But as soon as it became competitive and was a game, I came alive.

I can picture all the games we used to have. We always had to finish with a game at the end. The players just love a game at the end. You can’t just do your session and go in without having a game because it would just wind the players up.

So what’s the dream five-a-side team from all your former Liverpool team-mates?

Do I have to have a goalie? Best goalie I had was Reina. Right, defender…

Do you back yourself here and have yourself as a lone defender?

Oh yeah, I’d put myself in! Five-a-side, small-sided pitches, would play to my strengths. Stevie has to be in the team. Suarez would be in the team. How do I get a bit of balance here? John Barnes. That left foot!

Not Alonso?

No, John Barnes. That John Barnes left foot.

Which new signing wowed you from his very first training session?

The first person who comes to mind is Alonso. I can just picture him on that pitch behind us, playing a pass. He played a first-time pass and I just thought, ‘Oooooh’ You just knew, the noise it made and the pace he put on it. You thought, ‘He’s a proper player.’

Suarez, you knew pretty early on too. Sami Hyypia as well. People always talk about players needing time to settle in. I’ve never moved clubs but a lot of great players who came in to Liverpool, you could see straight away that they were a great player. They are the few that spring to mind, in training sessions where you think, ‘Oooh, that’s not normal.’

You are talking about some real club legends here! Yet you were quoted saying, ‘What have we got here, Pele?’ about Titi Camara from his first few months at the club, saying he set the world alight in training.

He did! You know what, you’re probably best putting him in with Assaidi (as most skilful). He was, in training you really were thinking, ‘Oh my god!’ about some of the things he could do. But it’s about playing in the game and that real class, not doing tricks. So I’d say Alonso, Sami Hyypia and Suarez. Straight away we thought we had something special here.

Were there any new signings you thought were c**p from their first sessions, only for them to prove you wrong?

Very few. I would say Momo Sissoko’s first training session wasn’t one he would look back on fondly! But he ended up being a great player for us for two or three years just after we won the Champions League. He was a real force.

Actually, it wasn’t even that long really because he didn’t play in the Champions League final in 2007. It must have just been the 2006 season really, maybe early 2007. He wasn’t there that long but he did a really, really good job.

He came in from nowhere and was probably trying to still find his bearings. He was only young at the time but he did a great job for us.

Who was rubbish in training but always turned it on in matches?

Didi Hamann. Didi Hamann, yeah, I would say. He just wanted to get through training, walk about, job about. He’s a bit like watching Messi in this World Cup, just walking about, though he wouldn’t dribble past someone and score! He saved his best moments for games, did Didi.

These games we talk about James Milner as the fittest player in the current Liverpool squad. The one who wins every single running test etc. Did you have anyone like that in your day?

John Arne Riise. John Arne Riise was that. A lot of the Scandinavians were like that. He was really competitive but we used to wind him up.

So when we went on pre-season tour, we’d get bikes from the hotel to the training pitch. It would probably take 15 or 20 minutes. He’d want to win that. So we’d get there a bit earlier and hide his bike or take his chain off or whatever!

And he’d be an absolute lunatic still trying to get there first. He was just a mad man. A great character, but probably the one we all took the p**s out of.

Who was the unfittest player in training?

Razor Ruddock! (Laughs)

Were there ever any fights on the training pitch?

There were never any proper fights. Maybe a bit of pushing and shoving, going head to head, but no-one would ever strike someone or do anything like that. I saw a couple of incidents but not on the training pitch. More away from the training pitch in hotels, but that was only once or twice over the course of like 20-25 years.

You see people on TV saying this happened every week on the training pitch when there was a bit of a scuffle on the pitch, but it doesn’t really. You’re team-mates, not everyone will get on with everyone but you can’t get to the stage where you’re fighting with each other. Nothing like that ever happened.

Funniest training ground moment at Melwood?

One hilarious moment with Pepe Reina does come to mind. Keepers just love booting balls everywhere, all over the training ground. He was just trying to hit one from one end of the training pitch to the other. Rafa just walked across, he must have only been like 10 yards away from him, and he hit this ball and it hit him right in the side of his head.

So we’re all like, ‘Oh my god!’ Rafa was sent flying, cabbaged on the floor. It was one where we needed to make sure Rafa was alright before you could start laughing (Laughs). That’s the one that springs to mind.

Evans, Houllier, Benitez, Hodgson, Dalglish, Rodgers. Who did you enjoy training under the most?

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