It is probably fair to say that Jamie Carragher knows a player when he sees one. In Jarrad Branthwaite, the Liverpool legend certainly likes what he sees.

“Sometimes, when you look at someone initially, you can tell they look the part,” Carragher says. “And he looks the part.”

Branthwaite’s remarkable ascent to Everton’s first-team, just months after leaving Carlisle United, is one of Cumbrian football’s best stories. The rich potential of the 18-year-old from Wigton was apparent when he negotiated four top-flight games with a remarkable composure.

Carlo Ancelotti, Branthwaite’s illustrious manager, has declared himself impressed. Carragher, who has watched Branthwaite from his Sky Sports perch, is another man amply qualified to assess the teenager’s early Premier League steps.

“He’s got a great physique and shape to be a centre-back, and he gives you great balance with his left foot as well,” Carragher tells the News & Star.

“As soon as he came on for his debut, Wolves scored from a set piece. It wasn’t really his fault, but as a young lad I know what it’s like – you come on the pitch and want it to go well, and it was an awful performance from Everton that day, so it wasn’t easy. But he showed confidence in that game at a time when it wasn’t going well for everybody, and I admired that.

“I really wanted him to start the next game [against Aston Villa] and was a bit disappointed he didn’t. But there was an injury to [Mason] Holgate and when he came on he was brilliant.

“I know from the word that comes out of Everton at different times that they thought highly of this lad. I’m a Liverpool man, but I’m always big on Everton bringing youngsters through. I know the lad hasn’t come through the youth system as a local player, but Everton do bring young players through as well as anyone.

“When you watch him, because of his size, you almost forget how young he is. The way football’s played now, the way defenders have to play from the back, receive the ball in their own box…to do that at such a young age is impressive.

“I was playing for Liverpool at 18 but wasn’t actually being asked to get on the ball, to receive it from the goalkeeper 10 yards from my goal and knowing if I lose it, it could be a goal. You have to have that sort of personality to accept that responsibility, and not to look flustered.

“It was interesting listening to Ancelotti saying that, when he does make a mistake in training or a game, it doesn’t seem to affect him. That’s a big accolade to have going forward in your career, no matter how old you are. Sometimes players can’t get over mistakes and it affects the rest of their game.

“If he gives a pass away, and Ancelotti knows better than me, he [Branthwaite] seems to get over it quite quickly. It seems he has a really good mentality to go on and have a great career.”

Branthwaite’s progression from Everton’s Under-23 squad to the first-team environment was remarkably rapid – and, again, Branthwaite’s ability to negotiate the step up with a level, unflustered mind has been notable here.

He cannot have expected his Premier League debut to come in an empty stadium, yet the Covid-19 climate has altered plenty beyond normal recognition. Could the absence of crowds, and the lack of accompanying pressure, have helped Branthwaite settle at such a rarefied level in some way?

“Maybe a little bit,” Carragher says. “Sometimes crowds can get nervous when teams are playing around the edge of their box; it can make the goalkeeper or defenders nervous. I suppose you haven’t had that in the last few weeks and it’s been more like a training session in some ways with no crowd there.

“But still to be doing that at his age, at that level, to accept that responsibility, I think is testament to him going forward. I don’t know the lad, but watching him as a player, I can’t imagine the crowds would affect him too much. Some people can’t cope playing in front of 40,000 people, the pressure of it. But I don’t see that happening to him.”

Branthwaite quickly proved Carlisle’s best player even at 17. This came even during a rotten start to their 2019/20 League Two season, when other parts of their defence were slack to say the least. Such circumstances only served to highlight the centre-half’s collected traits.

Carragher: “It’s very early, and obviously there are a lot more questions to be asked of him at different times – can he go on and be a mainstay of Everton’s defence over the next 10 years?

“Young players will have ups and downs and make mistakes, and cost goals. That’s exactly what I did, what Rio Ferdinand did, what John Terry did, because it’s a very unforgiving position. Hopefully he’ll have understanding from supporters that this will happen with a young defender. He will go out of the team, lose confidence, have to fight back and show his mentality – these are things every player has to go through.

“But it is a big thing to be cool and calm as a centre-back. I don’t think it’s a position to get too emotional. If you make bad decisions it's gonna cost you a goal, giving stupid fouls away, red and yellow cards…not good for a centre-back. That position, and goalkeeper, need to spread calm through a team.

“At this moment, it looks like he’s got those traits in his game. He has obviously improved through training with Everton’s players, and I’m sure more improvement will come in the next two or three years. It’s about his temperament and mentality as much as ability, to cope with that level of football.”

Further challenges may await Branthwaite if Everton recruit new centre-backs and the young man has to return to the Under-23s for a spell. He is amply young enough to deal with this and use it to his benefit, Carragher maintains.

“He might get games in pre-season, but he might then go two or three months without playing in the first team. The same thing happened to me and it’s a case of not getting too worried. That’s the game – you’ve almost got to wait for someone to get injured, lose form, suspensions…bide your time and be patient.

“Don’t get too downhearted if you’re back in the 23s for a couple of months. Keep using training sessions as games. You’re up against top quality players in training. Use that to your advantage.”

Another test up the road for Branthwaite will be the sudden surge of attention which, for a Premier League player, will dwarf anything he might have received even as a brilliant young performer at Carlisle. A solid mentality to deal with this is also necessary.

“Because he’s young and started well, a lot of attention will be through social media, and he’ll probably be enjoying that,” Carragher says. “At times it won’t go well in a game and it will be completely the opposite.

“Always be careful with social media. I’m not sure I’d be on it if I was a player now. I’m not sure you gain too much from it. I know that from the stick I still get for my columns and what I say on Sky. But I’m older, more mature. For a young lad it’s probably not the best place to be, looking or fishing for comments. You can have so many positive comments, but only one negative will make you feel not too good.

“It’s never been more important as a footballer to be level-headed and not get carried away. My advice would be not to get involved in it at all.”

A number of judges have described Branthwaite as an England player of the future. There are many miles to travel before predictions like that can be clarified, but there is little doubt that a bright, new prospect in his position will have a few antennae twitching high up the game.

“If you’re a young, English player in the Premier League, you’re on the manager’s radar,” Carragher says. “He just has to be, because there’s so few of them.

“A big plus is that he’s left-footed. I don’t think many countries produce that many left-footed centre-backs. In terms of a future with England, the way football’s going, becoming a more technical game, having a left-footed centre-back is an added bonus. That could give him a huge advantage in the next four or five years.

“He’s got to be a regular for Everton first. But after that I’m sure he will come into the reckoning.”

Branthwaite is also a rarity at the top level: someone who has graduated at his local, lower-league club rather than through the hothouse of an elite, Premier League academy. This should serve as an inspiration to others, as well as proof that there is more than one road to the peak.

“I think it’s brilliant when someone’s had that experience in lower league,” Carragher adds. “It gives that different bit of experience and understanding of what it’s like down there, when people and players are fighting for their lives, to support their families.

“He’s in a completely different world now and maybe that will give him the motivation to stay in it for as long as he can. There’s a long way to go but he’s made a really good start, which bodes well for the future.”