TGG Podcast #22: Jamie Carragher - The art of TV analysis
Written by Simon Austin — January 22, 2021
SINCE retiring from an illustrious playing career in 2013, Jamie Carragher has established himself as one of the best football pundits on TV.
Usually in tandem with Gary Neville, an old rival from his playing days, Carragher has made Monday Night Football on Sky Sports an appointment to view for any discerning fan.
Many of the techniques the Liverpool legend uses in his new jobs, from telestration to video analysis, are the same ones used by analysts working in the professional game and Carragher says his aim is to take fans into the world of the manager's debrief.
The 42-year-old, who is Liverpool's second-longest serving player and their record appearance maker in Europe, gave the Training Ground Guru Podcast the inside track on his second career.
Closest thing to playing
Jamie Carragher: I used to watch everything when I was a player - Monday Night Football when it was Andy Gray, Match of the Day when Alan Hansen was doing that - and I was always interested in the tactical side of the game and the small details. Rather than just saying, 'he scored, he made the mistake,' I'd want to go into things a little bit deeper.
The situation for people like me, as ex players, is to either go into coaching or punditry. Punditry was there for me.
Monday Night Football is, as everyone knows, more of a tactical show and a little bit different than anything else we have in this country. I’m not sure what they have in Spain or Italy or how they look at games, but Monday Night Football is the closest thing I can take to being a player.
It gives me a real buzz. I get a little bit of nerves before the show, because I know there is that much detail and prep has gone into it. You want it to be good and to be seen as the best show out there in terms of football.
Analysing a match
You want to see all 22 players in shot. That’s a really big thing for me with analysis, seeing what’s going on off the ball and not just following the ball.
Because of Covid, there aren’t as many people working on the show, so we’re not as strong as we usually are. Normally, we’d have a screen where we can see all 22 players for the Monday Night Football game and we’d spot things off the ball that we can’t quite do at this moment because of the situation we’re in.
You’ve got to remember that in the first half of a game you spot little things, but you’ve only got three minutes at half time, so if there’s a goal that’s it, that’s done.
If its 0-0, there might be a big incident to look at, but you may look at trends in a game and think 'just save that.' You’re speaking to the producer and building something together that you may use at the end of a game.
I basically go through every player and ask, 'what is their job?' I don’t know for certain, only the manager and the player can know that, but with my experience of being in those situations before, I would look at every player and ask what was he supposed to do and highlight them and look at them. Was there something off the ball or something he could have done differently?
My role is to put myself in the shoes of a player, because that’s my experience.
Last night (January 11th) we looked at the goal Southampton scored against Liverpool and there was something interesting with Jordan Henderson and the role of Stuart Armstrong, who pushed him back, which kept Danny Ings onside.
That's looking at things off the ball and trying to find something a little bit different and going that little bit deeper - as deep as I would say my coaches would go when we were going through a game on a Monday morning.
That's the best way of explaining it - it’s almost like a debrief, hopefully, for supporters and giving them an insight into what a Monday morning meeting would be like on the back of a game with a manager and the detail he would go into.
Using Wyscout for prep
I use it a lot for my work with Sky Sports. We talk about pundits doing their homework, but it’s very difficult to be up to speed with every player who comes in and know their background. There are so many new players coming into the league every season.
I’ve never claimed to know as much as maybe supporters of an individual club, who know everything, but Wyscout is a great tool when a player comes in, to have a look at his characteristics, strengths and weaknesses. It’s been a huge help.
It’s really good for me if I want to highlight or look at one player, I don’t have to go through a full game, I can just go look at someone’s best actions on Wyscout.
I know there’s data on there too, but we have a lot of data people at Sky who provide stats.
Evolution of analysis at clubs
I think we’d moved to DVD by the time I got into the first team at Liverpool (he made his debut in January 1997), but it wasn’t as in-depth as it was towards the end of my career under Brendan Rodgers.
That was almost computer-generated, rather than just sticking the game on, and you’d get different camera angles. I’m sure there's a lot more now though in terms of analysis.
Players go in individually and get clips; and the way technology has gone, everyone with laptops and iPads and phones, they get things sent to them for analysis. And that wouldn’t be the manager, it would be the analysis guy. Every club, certainly in the Premier League, will have two or three people who will look at the analysis.
So they’re probably a lot more in depth now than I was used to, but I was fortunate that I had a good football brain, in terms of understanding the game, so when a manager or coach spoke to me I quickly got what they were talking about.
There were other players who were a lot better than me at other things, maybe technical wise, or in terms of pace, height, but one of my strengths was reading and understanding the game and I think that helps me in the job I do now.
A lot of coaches - in fact almost everyone in the Premier League - record training sessions and there is analysis on that too, so it's a lot more in depth than when I was playing, there's no doubt.
Hopefully the players don’t pick too much and think they can take over from me on Monday Night Football!
I think I’d find it hard someone analysing my training session every single day, because we all like a little day off, we all switch off now and again in training at different times, but I don’t think coaches are using video analysis for all the sessions.
There may be a tactical part, maybe for 20 minutes, working on the front two, the back four, the whole team, 11 v 11, and you’re looking at what you can take into the game.
When it's serious tactical stuff, I totally get why coaches are looking to bring that analysis on board before the game - rather than looking after the game at what went wrong, you’re better looking before the game and hopefully fixing it.
I’m always a little bit wary of getting too close to any current manager or coach, because you find it difficult then to be critical or question how you set a team up.
I watch a lot of games and there aren’t a million formations or ideas; there are probably four or five formations that teams play in the Premier League. I don’t think there are lots of completely different ideas and when we see something it’s not usually something we haven’t seen before or understand the idea.
Evolution of the centre-back
I think centre back is now the most demanding position on the pitch. We expect them to be able to start attacks, play great football, defend on the halfway line with space in behind. So he’s got to be quick, able to defend 1 v 1 because full-backs push on. We ask so much of centre backs at the moment in this game.
Would I have been comfortable playing on the halfway line every week? I don’t think I would, I don’t think I was that type of defender. I would have had to adapt to the modern game. You always believe you could adapt. I think most players feel that but who knows.
I played for two managers in Gerard Houllier and Rafa Benitez who I won most of my trophies with. They were not managers who wanted their back four on the halfway line and pushing up as much. We used to look to counter attack opposition.
Going from the extreme of the boot room with Roy Evans, total football, and finishing my career like that, with Brendan Rodgers, and in between having two foreign managers who favoured maybe a more defensive side of a set-up. So I got both sides of it really.
Fans are more knowledgeable now
As pundits and fans, we don’t know the gameplan of any manager. We’re trying to read the game when the game’s happening.
But what I would say is that fans are so much more educated on the game now. You see them with social media, podcasts, fan blogs and I don’t think you need to have played the game to have an understanding of the game.
Supporters in the past, maybe 20, 30 years ago, were seen as maybe not having a clue about the game and that was wrong. You only have to look at fanzines to understand that.
The fanzine culture of supporters up and down the land has now gone on to them analysing their own games. I know that better than anyone, with Liverpool being such a big club with such a big fanbase. There are so many people wanting to give opinions and a lot of them you listen to. At times they might not listen to me, but there’s no right or wrong.
It's opinions, football, but I think the supporters now are a lot more educated in what their manager and team and players and set-up and what the team are trying to do.
Diifferent styles of play - and leadership
There are teams at the bottom of the table who play counter attacking football, there are teams at the bottom who play out from the back. There’s no right or wrong way, it’s just being as good as you can possibly be at what you believe in.
It gives you different sort of tactical challenges, different things for us to look at and analyse. However you coach or set up your team tactically, you just need to be as good as you possible can be at doing that.
The days of screaming and shouting and throwing teacups around the changing room, those days are well gone though. I don’t think players would respond to that at all. Football evolves and moves on and it's the same with management.
When you’re in management for a long time, you’re obviously getting older. How do you adapt and connect with young players? There has to be a different way, not just ‘it's my way or the highway.'
Another change of career?
When I was a player, I did want to become a manager, but the role I'm in now, I love doing that. I don’t think that will change.
If I went into coaching and managing, it’s a totally different job and I’d be starting from ground zero. It would take a lot of learning, a lot of experience to get anywhere near these top guys, so I think I’ve missed the boat with that one.
You look at players of my age who’ve already got experience on me - Stevie (Gerrard) has got probably five or six years with Liverpool’s Under-18s and now Rangers as well. That experience of ups and downs, of learning, I’ve got none of that. I’ve had my learning in the TV world, so I’m five or six years ahead of them in that world.
A football club is a major part in a lot of people’s lives in this country and we expect our managers to work hard and do everything they can to get our team results. It’s a very demanding job and when things go well its a very rewarding job and rightly so.