The Carragher crisis – should he stay or should he go now?

When a footballer becomes front page news, it doesn’t take much for the commentators, pundits and fans to create a storm of controversy that can dominate the agenda for days on end.

In the case of Jamie Carragher, the former Liverpool and England defender, the fact that he was filmed spitting at fans in a car who were goading him, leaves little room for excuses.

Carragher, now a well-renowned pundit for Sky Sports and the Telegraph newspaper, may well have been frustrated after watching his former club defeated 2-1 by arch-rivals Manchester United.

Everyone is prone to heat-of-the-moment lapses in behaviour, doing or saying things that we live to regret.

Carragher was an uncompromising defender – you don’t play more than 700 games for Liverpool without having grit as well as guile – and has clearly worked hard throughout his career as a player and a pundit to establish himself as a leader in his field.

It’s somewhat ironic that while a columnist for the Daily Mail, he wrote himself of the scourge of spitting which he had encountered as a player: 

“I was spat at once in my career. I was shocked more than angry when he did it because I couldn’t believe what had happened.”

In this age of 24/7 rolling news and smartphones, it’s almost impossible to avoid exposure when you make a mistake. 

The news agenda in England has been dominated with the story, phone-ins and social media giving pundits and the public the chance to give their view and even Sports Minister Tracey Crouch offering her opinion.

When crisis strikes, acknowledging mistakes that have been made, showing contrition and taking responsibility are fundamental when attempting to restore reputation. 

Carragher has not shied away since the incident happened, phoning the family involved in the incident to apologise personally.

He also undertook interviews with Sky and the BBC to express his regret. He said: “It was a moment of madness, it’s difficult to explain, it was almost an out-of-body thing but you can’t ever behave like that, it’s unacceptable.

“It's difficult to explain, the moment of madness, it was four of five seconds. I lost it and I made a huge mistake – I wish I could go back.

“It looks awful and I accept that. It's not something I've done before and not something I'll do again. It's a stain on my character and I have to accept that.

“I'm in no position to question or disagree if someone wants to have a pop or the police want to speak to me. I've done a bad thing and have to accept whatever comes my way.”

Carragher, who also tweeted an apology, accepted that as a former footballer and a high-profile figure, he is also a role model whose behaviour is scrutinised more than most.

“I think footballers, anyone in the role I do, anyone in the public eye is a role model, whether you like it or not and people do look up to us and do look at our actions. The world we are living in now a lot of young people will have seen this clip as well.

“It's a poor message of not just about being in the game, it's a poor message for everyone out there – man, woman or children. It's the lowest of the low.”

It has been said that a reputation takes a lifetime to earn and minutes to lose, but quite rightly, when crisis occurs, underlining your track record is an important reminder of your credentials.

“What I would hope – not just for Sky but for the public who have known me for 25 years in the public eye since I started playing for is that five seconds of madness will be not sort of take over everything I have done. People may or may not like me even before this incident but hopefully going forward I can show the real me as I don't think it was a real representation of me."

Whether he has been advised and followed the crisis communications playbook or done this by himself, it’s hard to see what more Carragher could do. If he visits the family and it is televised, it could be construed as a publicity stunt to try and save his punditry career.

Will it be enough to save his role at Sky?

The broadcaster has a record of punishing those who bring it into disrepute through their actions, sacking former Everton and Aston Villa striker Andy Gray after he made a number of sexist remarks, while former Manchester City winger Peter Beagrie was fired after he was convicted of assaulting his partner.

Some will argue that retaining Carragher, who has great box-office appeal for his punditry partnership with Gary Neville, would show inconsistency from Sky and send out the wrong message.

Others will argue that one mistake should not end his career.

Perhaps the fact that the family who were spat at, who could have called for his sacking, have also said that they hope Carragher keeps his job, will be enough to save him.

But whatever happens now, this incident is another reminder that brands and organisations always expect the highest standards of those who represent them – and to fall below those standards can always have devastating consequences for those involved.

* Since this story was first published, Sky has announced that it has suspended Carragher until the end of the 2017-18 season.