Forget about the price tag: The Andy Carroll Conundrum

Few players in recent Anfield history have divided opinion more than Andrew Thomas Carroll. The current incumbent of the Number 9 shirt arrived in a hail of fanfare, shock and joy to the tune of £35 million pounds. It was envisaged, at that early stage, that Carroll would become the enforcer of the Liverpool Attack, terrifying defenders and slotting home goals. Comolli, Dalglish and FSG had paved the way for a foot-balling titan.

How wrong they were. It is clear that Andy Carroll has not delivered, many have put forward reasons for the shortfall, but as yet none have yielded a remedy. At Newcastle, Carroll was not only revered, he was effective. He was undoubtedly a talisman for the Geordies and showed signs of becoming a first rate international striker. He scored 11 goals in 20 games during his last season at St James’ Park (or whatever commercial variant Mr Ashley wishes to bastardise the stadium with) and had previously dragged his club from the mire of the Championship with a further 19 in 42. In his truncated first season at Anfield he did show glimpses meriting the investment in him, his double against Manchester City lives long in the memory. Since that time however, he has scored just 6 goals in 35 games for the Redmen across all three of their domestic competitions. The killer question is… why?

Reason One: He isn’t good enough. What did we really know about Carroll before we signed him? He won the Jackie Milburn Trophy demarcating the premier talent of the North East youth, was well known as a shining star in the reserve and youth leagues and had demonstrated a season and a half at his boyhood club to good effect. Perhaps these were the factors that prompted our American Owners to sign off on the £35 million cheque. However, with all due respect to Newcastle, Liverpool Football Club is a far different beast. It is European Success, not European Qualification that the Anfield Faithful are rightfully accustomed to and crave. Carroll was never really tested; he scored a fair amount of goals against a substandard level of defence. He had a short hot streak in the Premier League and just ask Dominic Adiyiah for confirmation that youth attainment counts for very little in the big bad world. He has no amazing touch to speak of nor does he possess the ‘good feet for a big man’ that so saved Peter Crouch during his infamous barren spell.

The Remedy – Playing with Better Players. Never a panacea for the poor player, but often it is the case that a mediocre player can find himself galvanised by better players around him, that he will drag his performance levels to heights that otherwise would have eluded him. The worry with Carroll will coast on the backs of the players better than himself. The current evidence is that Carroll has tried to adapt, given the correct amount of service and coaching, he may well form a decent partnership with our Uruguayan Magician or the Welsh Master.

In this writer’s opinion, however, Carroll will never justify his Torres-inflated transfer fee in full.

Reason Two: A debatable Work Ethic? Everyone within earshot of Merseyside knows about Carroll’s late night shenanigans earlier in the season. The story of our newest acquisition falling off a stool in a prominent casino amid a sea of Jagermeister and astonished onlookers must have set warning bells ringing. Too often we have seen many a great career ruined or stifled due to a heady brew of fecklessness, drink and poor decision making (insert your own Gazza/Tonka joke here). Admittedly Carroll has straightened his life out since then (either that or the Anfield PR Department have become much more savvy in the arts of damage limitation and press-gagging). His on-field displays do sometimes belie petulance and the inherent suggestion that the boy doesn’t fancy it. The sight of our would-be talisman moaning at his teammates, berating the referee and taking no umbrage at sitting on the bench are worrying signs indeed.

The Remedy – If this is the problem with Carroll then, in fairness, he could not have fallen into a better infrastructure. The words, ‘Kenny will get hold of him’, frequently ring out when enough Scousers congregate.

The groundwork can already be seen, he has, in recent weeks, demonstrated improving levels of fitness and heart; displays against the Manchester clubs were encouraging indeed. The truth of the matter however is this; if Carroll does have a problem with working hard for the shirt, he will not last long at Anfield. If he is in any doubt as to this then he can ask any of the former players too foolish to understand what being a Kop Idol comprised of (Insert your own Abel Xavier comment here).

Reason Three – We Don’t Play to the Boy’s Strengths. This particular sentiment is banded around the terraces and pubs no end by loyal, albeit misguided, sections of the Anfield Faithful…. and it infuriates me no end. Liverpool Football Club is bigger than any player, you don’t change our pass and move philosophy for any player and on that basis the suggestion that Andy Carroll isn’t effective because we don’t hoof the ball up to him in a Bolton-WestHam-AnywhereelseAllardycecoaches-kind-of-way is ludicrous!

Admittedly Carroll is strong and blessed with an aerial ability comparable to his Tyneside idol and former manager. However, I recent comments and suggestions from the media grapevine that the King will seek to change his style to become more direct will have horrified fans. Liverpool play quick, aggressive football, based on passing to feet and heart. It has been that way since we were taken out of the Second Division in the 60’s. If Carroll wants to make it at Anfield, its going to take more than a header here and an elbow there. He needs to learn how to play to feet, how to hold the ball up for the midfield and how to chase down ball-playing defenders.

The Remedy – Hard work and perseverance. As Mike Bassett said, you can make good players into great players and poor players into mediocre ones. Factor in his aerial prowess to a mediocre level of footwork and intellect and as a club we can progress. The early shoots of skill can be seen, as the season has progressed our Geordie front man has started to understand the Kop Philosophy. Ultimately time will tell.

This article wasn’t written to vilify the lad. Even the most ardent resentful Toffee will tell you that the boy has potential. This article was written to address and dispute some of the nonsensical diatribe and argument that is posted on the internet and roared on the terraces. No one hopes more than I that Carroll will justify his investment – if he does we will be in Europe (proper Europe), in the Top Four Mix and once again a force to be reckoned with. The next hurdle for him will be the summer transfer market. If he can hold onto his gifted Liverpudlian status for the summer, then he will find a club once more willing to invest in him, back him to the hilt and defend him against the world. If Kenny and FSG decide that the punt was misguided then it may be the case that he is sold to a suitably fitting club where he can eke out a mediocre career (Insert your own Stoke-Bolton-NewlyPromotedClub-comment here).

What is never in dispute is this; for as long as Andy Carroll is a Liverpool player, he will never walk alone.

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