That he has found himself sailing too close to the wind is something Andy Carroll has been accused of before but Brendan Rodgers recent comments has left the towering striker closer than walking the green mile to the precipice of the Anfield cliff.
Carroll, a striker seemingly reborn once the credits rolled on last season, could now find himself in great danger of having his yet still brief Liverpool career terminated just at the stage where, to many observers, he had begun to find his feet on Merseyside.
While it would take a Johnny Cochrane-inspired defence for anybody to argue that the player has been anything but an overall disappointment during his time at Liverpool, it would understandably frustrate the towering striker that the justification for his probable demise lies not in the poor form that he looked to have finally eradicated but rather one of conflicting footballing philosophies.
Once Rodgers long winded arrival at Anfield was eventually confirmed, any seasoned onlooker worth his salt could see the disparity between Rodgers, an ambitious young manager indoctrinated in the art of quick possession football, and Carroll, a physical, raw, target man whose mere presence on the pitch invites his team-mates to look to find him aerially.
With Fabio Borini now signed and delivered from AS Roma, a pacey number nine with a Pippo Inzaghi-style inspired eye for the back of the net, who looks to have all the attributes required to thrive not only alongside Luis Suarez but also within a Brendan Rodgers team, Carroll is now the proverbial elephant in the room.
The question of not merely where but how exactly Carroll could fit in within the framework of a fluid passing structure has seen him increasingly linked with a move away from the club. This question was put to the Liverpool manager just a few days ago. Rodgers responded: “Andy’s always going to be linked with clubs, whether he was here or not. I have spoken to him on his holidays and he knows exactly where he stands but I have had no enquiries about him.’ If the player was looking for a ringing endorsement of his immediate future then it was not to be worth forthcoming. When the question of a rumoured loan move arose, ‘It’s something I would have to look at, I have to be honest’ said Rodgers.
An exit from L4 would complete a desperately disappointing eighteen months for the Gateshead born striker. Signed on the back of a hugely encouraging initial six months in the Premier League for Newcastle, Carroll’s career stalled awkwardly once his home town club were obliged Liverpool’s still astonishing offer of £35 million pounds. Carroll came to symbolise a head scratching transfer philosophy for the then Liverpool regime. Suarez apart, their recruitment drive was focused purely upon the Premier League and young, promising British players in particular. However, the transfer negotiations were handled with all the skill of a tourist carrying a white flag into a Marrakech market place. The bloated, unrealistic, transfer fee’s paid for the likes of Carroll, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing and the subsequent public guffawing due to this did these players no favours at all.
While Downing is an experienced professional that has undergone several transfers already in his career, Henderson and Carroll were both twenty-one years old and moving away from their home-town for the first time. Certainly in Carroll’s case there has always been an underlying air of a player not feeling totally at home in Liverpool, perhaps because he was not entirely comfortable in making the move away. Carroll himself stated to the editor of a Newcastle fanzine, ‘I’m gutted to be leaving my home town club, I was told to go. I didn’t want to leave that’s why I signed a 5 year deal. I was pushed out of the door.’ In fairness to Newcastle, the incredulous, Championship Manager on acid, offer that Liverpool made is the type that just could not be ignored. Carroll found himself whisked away in owner Mike Ashley’s helicopter before he had scarcely blinked. Liverpool’s Damien Commoli, the negotiator extraordinaire, was to pay for such transactions with his job a little over a year later.
Injured upon arrival and then injured again quite soon after his return, Carroll offered a tantalising glimpse as to what he might bring to the table the following season with a storming performance and a brace of goals versus Manchester City. With this in mind, Liverpool supporters could have reasonably expected their fully-fit front man to hit the ground running come the new season and pay back a chunk of that transfer fee. Carroll, the most expensive British player of all time, barely got out of the starting blocks, taking until October to open his account for the new season. He appeared sluggish, unsure of what he should be doing within a side that was not obviously set up to play to his strengths. Each game that went by, each pass that was misplaced, each chance that was not taken, the jeers from the opposing supporters became louder and more gleeful. He and Luis Suarez played together as though only introduced to each other just before kick-off. Soon, Carroll’s confidence appeared to reach rock bottom and he began to find himself becoming increasingly familiar with the substitutes bench. His then-manager, Kenny Dalglish, repeatedly defended his star striker, but that support did not extend to an unbroken run of games in the starting eleven.
Ironically, the turning point in Carroll’s Liverpool career, at that point, was his return to St James Park in April. Subjected to a torturous seventy-nine minutes by a baying Newcastle crowd, a section of whom appeared to disregard the game almost entirely to focus upon jeering their former striker relentlessly, he found himself booked for diving before his final, crucifying, substitution. As he trudged off the field, he appeared close to tears before subjecting his manager and the away dugout to a volley of abuse as he stormed past them into the away team’s dressing room. If anybody required convincing that this was a player with too much on his shoulders then this particular afternoon confirmed it. Many expected it to be the seminal moment that marked the end of Carroll’s Liverpool career.
However, in the aftermath of this torrid afternoon, there was a subsequent noticeable improvement in Carroll’s form. It can be argued that the demonstration of the contempt, dare I say hatred, displayed by a vocal number of the Newcastle crowd dispelled any yearning the player may have still held for the comfort of his hometown team and the manner in which his sudden exit was conducted. Newcastle showed that they had moved on past Carroll, and Liverpool too for that matter, and the player himself appeared to have accepted that he had to move on too.
The player whom so much had been expected began to find his feet, though it was his forehead that once again did the talking. The last-gasp, bullet header, against Blackburn at Ewood Park to steal three points was a good start. The glancing header in the semi-final at Wembley versus Everton followed – a goal that guarantees him a place in Liverpool folklore whatever happens now. He wreaked havoc upon the Chelsea defence in the FA Cup final as well as the following league game. Rarely has John Terry appeared as flustered. If ever there was a player that did not want a season to end then it was Carroll. To complete the renaissance, a place in England’s Euro 2012 squad was secured and a thunderous header versus Sweden in the group stages followed. Carroll was a surprise inclusion in the squad, making the plane not due to the paltry four league goals he scored that season but purely down to his devastating form in the closing stages.
With this in mind, it is odd to some that the player Liverpool have spent eighteen months trying to coax out of a dark spell, akin to that of the one suffered by Theoden, the King of Rohan, in the Lord Of The Rings, perhaps with Grima masquerading as that £35 million pound cheque, and once he has awakened it looks as though he need not unpack his bags once he arrives back from his summer holidays in Brazil.
Nobody could argue that Carroll is an obvious, ready made fit, for the type of tactical system that Brendan Rodgers hopes to employ in his Liverpool side. Carroll, even on his best days, can still be somewhat ponderous on the ball and his movement is not in keeping with what Rodgers presumably expects from his forwards in a 4-4-3 formation. However, what Carroll does offer is something different. The dreaded term ‘Plan B’ is applied here.
For all the deserved plaudits that Swansea City received last season for the easy on the eye passing philosophy employed as newcomers to the Premier League, the stats show that while Swansea enjoyed a pass completion rate only just below that of the overall top five teams last year, the majority of their possession came outside of the final third. Taking an average percentage of completed passes in the final third, where risks have to be taken, Swansea do not feature nearly as favourably. Conversely, Liverpool under Dalglish was second highest in this regard but that more speaks volumes regarding the standard of finishing displayed at Anfield last season. This is not a slight on Swansea’s or Rodger’s achievements last year. As the club with the smallest transfer and wage budget in the division, it is realistic that a team bases it’s success upon a strong base of defensive resilience. That they did so while embracing overall control of the football is something to be admired.
However, what these stats do show us is that perhaps there is something to be said for having another option in the side or from the bench. There is nothing wrong if, when all else fails, a passing side can betray their philosophy by using an effective battering ram if a castle gates have yet to be breached. This is what Carroll can offer Rodgers and Liverpool. Swansea failed to score in fifteen of their thirty eight matches last season – more than any other side in the division. Clearly, with all due respect to Swansea, Rodgers will be working alongside a better standard of player overall so this particular stat is unlikely to be repeated next season but the argument still stands that there is nothing wrong in utilising another type of strength when required.
Carroll is destined to carry the £35 million transfer fee like an albatross around his neck for the rest of his career. It is doubtful that he will ever be able to justify it. Few footballers could. However, one must distinguish between the expectation of what we expect a player of that sum to display and see instead what he can actually offer. It’s true that Carroll is a player that has thrived upon good service, something even his detractors would admit he has rarely had at Anfield since the move. Yet, given the opportunity, he may well yet be able to adapt as well as offering something different to his team given the right situation. There will be times next season when Liverpool will look to somebody to offer this. Whether the pony-tailed forward will be that person is looking increasingly doubtful.
AC Milan, Fulham, and West Ham have been strongly linked with the striker recently. For Carroll, a change of scenery may just be beneficial but for Liverpool, they risk cashing their chips in at the wrong moment. Perhaps the rumoured loan only move can be seen as an insurance policy just in case the giant has been awakened. On the other hand, Liverpool could be seen as a home owner ready to move on, simply waiting for a good moment in the markets to allow them him to sell.
It will be interesting to watch what becomes of Carroll if, as looks likely, he does depart Anfield this summer. Few players have evoked such strong feelings both for and against amongst supporters in recent times. Carroll will likely always be a divisive figure for some, for many the dye has already been cast on him. He has been unfortunate in the timing of his probable Anfield demise and perhaps this would be the moment that some observers would note as Brendan Rodgers first mistake at Anfield. Whether that mistake returns to haunt Rodgers remains to be seen but it’s likely that Carroll will either soar high once again or sink even lower for, like always, there is no middle ground to be found when it comes to Andy Carroll.