“He was the best person we could have got in to play the number nine shirt.”
That’s how Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish described the £35m capture of Andy Carroll shortly after the striker’s move to Anfield last year.
It was a deadline day transfer that surprised many. Despite an impressive start to his Premier League career with Newcastle, at only 22 a hugely inexperienced quantity became the most expensive British footballer in history overnight.
Carroll’s maiden return to the ground where he was once idolised was one of torture for the former Magpies talisman. Viewed by many on Tyneside as betraying his hometown club, the striker was subjected to torrid abuse throughout Liverpool’s 2-0 defeat on Sunday. An afternoon which epitomised the difficulties he’s faced during his short Reds career.
Carroll has endured a difficult and frustrating first year at Anfield, with Dalglish’s bold attribution of his number nine — one that he will look at with great embarrassment. Despite Dalglish’s backing at the time it was a transfer labeled as potential suicide, and 14 months on it is looking ever more just that.
But where has it all gone wrong for Carroll? He finished Newcastle’s top scorer in the Championship in his first full season with 17 league goals (19 in all competitions), and continued his form by netting a hat-trick against Aston Villa in the club’s first home game following promotion. His ability to find the net didn’t waiver, with the Gateshead-born striker scoring 11 Premier League goals last season before his move to the north-west.
After his arrival on Merseyside it has been a journey of unfamiliarity for Carroll. A severe dip in form has seen him score only eight times in 48 appearances in all competitions for the Reds — a stark contrast to the form that saw him touted as the next Alan Shearer only eighteen months ago.
Sunday’s return to St James’ Park brought ridicule and despair for Carroll. After a relatively bright start he was booked for a clear dive after rounding Magpies’ ‘keeper Tim Krul when it looked certain he would score. Then after being substituted in the late stages, to ironic cheers from the home faithful, he aimed a tirade of verbal abuse towards Dalglish as he stormed straight down the tunnel. A potentially scarring day that Carroll will see as the worst of his career, and one that brought further suggestions that ‘King Kenny’s’ crown is undoubtedly slipping.
Although Carroll received much of the attention following another disappointing afternoon for Liverpool, that masks the true severity of the club’s problems. Dalglish is seeing the consequences of vastly over-spending on a core of players who aren’t of the quality to meet the club’s aims – Champions League qualification. Something he will, of course, never admit, but unfortunately for him a harsh fact.
With the team’s present struggles it looks increasingly difficult for Carroll to recapture the form that was the catalyst for his record-breaking transfer. Some believe this will be the striker’s only full season at Liverpool, with it unlikely that the club will fight to keep him should a bidder come forward this summer. For all their problems the football club aren’t stupid and know if an offer is made it may be time to cut their losses and move forward.
There was a rumour a cut-price £10m return to Newcastle was a possibility in January, but with the arrival of Papiss Cisse it was a suggestion surely shrouded in mischief. And with the Magpies new number nine netting more league goals in seven games (7) to that of Carroll’s last 35 appearances (5), a St James’ Park return now seems even more unlikely.
Following Sunday’s nightmare afternoon on Tyneside, focusing on football and rebuilding his career must be Carroll’s priority. He has youth to his advantage and has proven that he is a threat to even the best Premier League defences when at the peak of his powers. That’s what potential suitors will gamble on if he becomes available, no matter of how embarrassingly unsuccessful he has been at Anfield.
It’s his responsibility to recapture the form that saw him described as one of England’s best young strikers. Otherwise he is in danger, rightly or wrongly, of being dubbed one of the greatest flops of all time.