Brendan Rodgers was appointed Liverpool manager in June, and has now had some time to get to know his squad. Presumably this means that the manager has decided upon those players that fit well into his system and those that need to be replaced. Worryingly for some Liverpool fans, Andy Carroll appears to be in the latter group. Rodgers has never defended the Geordie or been as unequivocally supportive of him as he has of other players like Lucas Leiva or Martin Skrtel. It’s easy to tell the players that the manager desperately wants to stay at the club, just through his own words. With Carroll there’s always been a sense that if the right offer came along it wouldn’t be a big loss.
Some people might wonder what all the fuss is about, West Ham’s offer of almost £20 million on a striker with Carroll’s record of 11 goals in 52 appearances seems like an excellent piece of business. Especially for a club like Liverpool that doesn’t have unrestricted money to spend on wages and transfers. To a lot of observers Carroll was always a bad fit for a side looking to play continental football, not a highly mobile player with a poor first touch. Plus, he has no idea where to be when the ball was pinged around and he’s too one-dimensional. These people were probably grateful for Andy Carroll’s late season run because it actually attracted buyers for him and his £75,000 a week wages. Send him off to play for Big Sam where he belongs.
But, there are others. People, (and Ian Rush is among them), think the Andy Carroll that burst onto the scene in the final games of the campaign was the fittest and sharpest he’s ever been. That he’s young enough to raise his game even further, and that he can be more than a simple target man.
Why should Liverpool keep Andy Carroll? Well for one, there’s the embarrassment factor of the club admitting its record signing is a failure after only a season and a half (about half of which the player was fully fit), especially when the man is only 23. Perhaps it’s simply too early to declare that he’s not good enough. Yes, lots of times last season (and admittedly this preseason against Tottenham) Carroll looked impotent and unsure of what to do. Yet, he’s also one of Liverpool’s only players that has a true gravitas on the field, someone that lets defenders know who’s there and that he has to be marked. He ensures that there’s always a plan B, or another route of attack with his aerial prowess as well.
Another reason is that Liverpool’s forward line is embarrassingly lightweight at the moment. The sale of Dirk Kuyt and Maxi Rodriguez has meant that a side that struggles to hit the back of the net on a usual basis has lost two of its best finishers. Is it really smart to sell another player that has experience playing with the rest of the squad? Bringing in a new player even if he’s slightly better, (probably at considerable cost because if Carroll gets sold everyone knows Liverpool have cash and no striker), that takes a lot of time to get comfortable with the rest of the squad might not be worth it.
Can Andy Carroll be the forward that Brendan Rodgers wants? There’s a perfect example of Rodgers’ preferred style of forward that just signed for Liverpool in Fabio Borini, who worked with the manager at Chelsea and Swansea. Evidence from his first two Liverpool appearances and from his time at other clubs shows why Rodgers is such a fan. The Italian runs his legs off, constantly pressing and harrying the opposition and works hard to get in good offensive positions. Whether that is to open up space for himself or a teammate, it seems he has a good understanding of the game and is in general a useful player. One of his weaknesses, however, is passing. A passing percentage of 75% last season was the lowest at Roma, horrible for a team that was trying to be like Barcelona with a possession based approach. Rodgers wants to play the same style and is obviously willing to overlook the striker’s deficiency because of everything else he brings to the table.
Andy Carroll last season had a pass success rate of 58%, far worse than Borini and which in a system that depends on the ball would appear to make him a liability. The high energy and pressing that’s required in Rodgers’ system would also be difficult for him to manage. The rawness of his game means that too often he doesn’t take up the intelligent positions that Rodgers would like from his striker either.
Another thing that may have worried Rodgers was the effect Carroll had on the rest of the squad. At times when the big man was on the field last season it seemed that all thoughts of possession football went out the window, with the allure of putting the ball in the mixer too strong to resist. More often than not the approach didn’t yield success and it’s certainly not the way Rodgers’ teams like to play.
However, Andy Carroll is not the worst problem in the squad. In fact it could be argued he’s the only true striker in the squad. Unless a deal for someone better at a reasonable price is agreed, then his departure considerably weakens an already shallow squad that’s playing in four different competitions with a toothless offense as is. Never before has FC Gomel’s back line been made to look as good then on the first of August. Carroll at 23 should have time to see if he can adapt to the new style of play and if last season’s ending was a flash in the pan or not. Other players are far more of a hindrance to the squad.
Charlie Adam and Joe Cole have both proven themselves to be quite awful in Liverpool’s new way of playing, the former with his preference for flashy passes that ruin solid buildup play and the latter with his constant attempts to take on defenders instead of passing and moving. The manager’s reasons for trying them can be explained, with two midfielders around him, Adam’s defensive woes aren’t as apparent, and perhaps his range of passing could benefit a side that may move the ball too slowly at times. Rodgers has been playing Joe Cole where he had his most success at Chelsea, in the wide positions in a 4-3-3.
Yet, neither have worked out. Joe Cole is 30 now, not 23 when he was shuttling up and down the wing under Jose Mourinho. It’s apparent that he doesn’t have the legs to press or get around fullbacks reliably anymore and his £90,000 a week wages are perhaps preventing the club from conducting transfer business. Charlie Adam’s game just doesn’t sync with Rodgers’ system and the presence of both of these players is preventing younger players who looked a much better fit with the system such as Jonjo Shelvey and Dani Pacheco from playing more. While some veteran players such as Jamie Carragher seem to have actually embraced Rodgers’ philosophy, these two stick out.
Perhaps Andy Carroll isn’t the £35 million hero he was hyped to be, but he provides something different in an area of the pitch that Liverpool are quite bare in. The same cannot be said of Cole and Adam. Perhaps those are the players that should be sent out first.