IT is the abiding memory of Jamie Carragher’s 16 years of dedicated service to Liverpool Football Club. The images sum up perfectly both the man and the footballer and why he is so loved and revered by supporters and team-mates alike.

Deep into extra time in Istanbul, his body was wracked with pain, cramp severely hampering his movement.

Carragher had run himself into the ground but he simply refused to throw in the towel. Somehow he kept going, putting his body on the line time and time again with a heroic show of courage to repel the advances of AC Milan.

When Jerzy Dudek parried away Andriy Shevchenko’s penalty in the shootout, it was the Bootle-born defender who led the manic victory charge towards the Reds keeper.

The Champions League triumph of 2005 was his finest hour. But it wasn’t a one-off.

It merely showcased, on the biggest of stages, the qualities which make Carragher such a rare breed.

He is the ultimate one-club man who deserves to be ranked alongside the greatest names ever to pull on a red shirt.

For Carragher, the team has always come first. A selfless and loyal individual who has always made the most of his talent by setting the highest of standards.

The timing of his announcement that he will retire at the end of the season will have surprised many.

After all he has just started three successive Premier League matches and repaid Brendan Rodgers’ faith with performances of the highest calibre against Norwich City, Arsenal and Manchester City.

Yet in truth it’s just typical of Carragher that he wants to bow out on his terms and with his head held high.

The thought of extending his playing days elsewhere when his current deal expires this summer never appealed and neither did the prospect of another 12 months at Anfield as a squad player.

Some will wonder whether Liverpool could have done more to retain his services. After all there hasn’t been a new deal on the table for the 35-year-old to sign.

But that didn’t play any part in Carragher’s decision. If he wanted to keep going then a contract extension from the Reds would have been forthcoming.

In fact the centre-back informed Rodgers back in October that this was likely to be his last season at Anfield.

The following months only strengthened his resolve to call it a day as he spent most Premier League games watching on from the bench. The transition from ever-present to substitute wasn’t an easy one.

In the wake of Liverpool’s 5-0 rout of Norwich three weeks ago, when Carragher made his first league start for more than two months, he informed Rodgers that his mind was made up.

With both the player and the manager quizzed in interviews about the defender’s future, Carragher decided it was time to make his intentions clear – he would hang up his boots.

He didn’t want the speculation to provide an unwelcome distraction as Liverpool chase Europa League glory and Champions League qualification between now and May.

True to form, the man who tried to play on after breaking his leg against Blackburn in 2003, put the club first.

As it stands there is no offer of a role to ensure Carragher’s wealth of experience and knowledge is retained beyond the summer but that isn’t an issue.

Carragher wants to weigh up his options over the coming months with a new career as a TV pundit currently looking more likely than a move into coaching.

What is clear is that after the Reds entertain QPR on May 19, Liverpool will lose half of their Scouse heartbeat. A gaping hole will be left not only for a top-class centre-half but an inspirational vice-captain.

It’s been some journey for Carra, who joined Liverpool’s youth system at the age of nine.

Only the legendary Ian Callaghan stands above him in the club’s all-time appearance list. On 723 occasions he has lived the dream.

Supporters love him because he’s one of them.

He’s the homegrown hero who snubbed Hello! to sell his wedding photographs to The Kop magazine for £1.

The boy from Brunswick Youth Club on Marsh Lane has never lost touch with his roots. That is epitomised by the work of the 23 Foundation, the charity he set up to help youngsters across Merseyside. It benefited from a £1million cash injection courtesy of his Anfield testimonial against Everton in 2010.

But Carragher had to fight for that esteemed place in the fans’ affections. In the early years following his debut under Roy Evans in 1997 he was a target of criticism.

Being played out of position as a holding midfielder or at full-back didn’t help his cause.

Yet he never complained, he merely knuckled down and vowed to prove the doubters wrong. He achieved that emphatically.

It was Rafa Benitez who finally utilised his talents in a central defensive role. His partnership with Sami Hyypia was the best in Europe. His never-say-die attitude – coupled with his reading of the game and his organisational skills – was instrumental en route to Istanbul. His performaces away to Juventus and home to Chelsea are the stuff of legend.

Last season under Kenny Dalglish, he lost his place due to injury and on his return to fitness he was no longer a guaranteed starter with Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger the favoured pairing.

Sitting on the bench was a bitter pill to swallow having been a cornerstone of the Liverpool side for so long but typically Carra never rocked the boat.

Similarly, for Rodgers he has put aside personal disappointment over a lack of game time to be a rock of support for the new manager.

When Liverpool walk out to face West Brom on Monday night, the Kop will once again sing about dreaming of ‘A Team of Carraghers’.

In three months’ time Liverpool won’t even have one to fall back on. There will be a void the Reds will struggle to fill.

But as Carra said himself this isn’t a time for reflection. That can wait until the summer.

Before then there’s still time for Liverpool’s No 23 to write a final chapter in a remarkable tale.