Andy Carroll: At a crossroads

After a rollercoaster season for the Geordie frontman, Andy Carroll has ended the season on a high with his cameo in the Cup Final the particular highlight.

ANDY CARROLL is now standing at a potential crossroads of his Anfield career. One road leads to him becoming the player Liverpool always hoped he’d be; a tough, battering-ram striker with a cannon in his left boot and capable of striking fear into the hearts of Premier League defenders. The other; becoming just another of the seemingly endless ‘what if’ players to come through the doors at Liverpool and a perhaps the most expensive mistake in the club’s history.

The 23-year-old divides opinion amongst Reds fans probably more than any other in the current squad. In his 46 appearances this season he’s racked up nine goals and five assists, hardly the return expected given the massive £35m shelled out for him in January 2011 following the departure of former golden boy Fernando Torres.

Carroll has been criticised throughout the season from the reasonable to the idiotic. He’s faced flack for not trying hard enough, trying too hard, not adapting his game, adapting his game too much, wearing a pony-tail, being too tall, complaining, drinking too much, diving and being petulant; yet the main gripe of course is he doesn’t score often enough. Nine goals in one season will never be enough for a starting Liverpool striker especially one who’s expected to play a major part in the future of the club’s attack.

Yet all may not be lost yet. Carroll’s recent run of games has seen a different player emerging from what the Reds faithful seen sloping around the Anfield turf for the past nine months. A marauding, powerful and confident striker has seemingly replaced the desolate figure that Carroll cut earlier in the season. A return to the form, skill and energy that caught the eye of the nation with Newcastle and led to his mega-transfer to Liverpool may have finally materialised.

It’s easy to forget that Carroll is still young and had only six months of Premier League experience under his belt when he arrived at Liverpool. Arriving injured and with a hugely inflated price-tag has done little to help his cause. A turbulent season all-round for Liverpool; cumulating with Luis Suarez’s eight match ban left Carroll with even more weight on his broad shoulders than he may have expected. With that said, it still doesn’t serve as an excuse for some abject performances yet he’s far from the only player that can be said about.

Looking back over the season there is a number of games that could be described as pivotal moments in Carroll’s Liverpool career. His first goal of the Premier League season is the first; a flash of his game-winning potential against Everton at Goodison Park. A long string of indifferent performances ensued before providing the decisive flick-on for Dirk Kuyt to down Man Utd at Anfield in the FA Cup which was followed up by Carroll bagging the opening goal in a man-of-the-match showing during the 3-0 away win over Wolves at the tail-end of January.

Liverpool’s away trip to face Newcastle on April Fools’ Day should have been a homecoming for Carroll to savour. Instead it left only a bitter taste; Carroll received a hounding from the fans that once adored him only to be made worse by theatrically diving in an attempt to win a penalty when slotting the ball home was probably an easier option. If that wasn’t enough, a visibly upset Carroll was subbed with 10 minutes to go and took his frustrations out as he trundled-off down the tunnel, caping miserable day which saw Pepe Reina sent off and Liverpool crumble to a 2-0 defeat. Some have pointed to his day as when Carroll may have turned his back on Newcastle and began to focus on the fans at Liverpool who for the most part have been providing him with support he has desperately needed.

Back-to-back winning goals over Blackburn in the league and Everton in the FA Cup semi-final showed signs of promise and recovery.

The FA Cup final itself proved how devastating Carroll as the potential to be. Chelsea couldn’t handle his introduction; playing like a man possessed, Carroll bossed the opposition defence, won every aerial battle and flick-on, looked calm and assured in possession and took his goal extremely well. Had the goal from his towering header been given, Carroll would no doubt be the name on everyone’s lips as one of the most dramatic of introductions in an FA Cup final.

His post-match interview showed an inconsolable young man on the edge of tears. This moment in particular could be the driving force that makes Carroll become the player he could be. Take an inspired performance in a cup final only to end the day with nothing to show for it, add in the feeling of injustice over the ‘goal’ and you’ve got the sort of fuel past players have used to make sure it never happens again. The big question remains is that will Carroll be able to channel that emotional hurt into positivity and a winning mentality the the way so many before him have done.

Despite not scoring, another man-of-the-match showing in the 4-1 league fixture against Chelsea showed that he is almost certainly on an upward curve; understanding what is required and expected of a Liverpool player.

Developing a partnership with Suarez will be crucial to Liverpool’s success both need each other to get the best out of their respective games. Carroll thorough occupying defenders gives Suarez space to operate and vice versa. This was evident in the home defeat to Fulham, with Suarez rested ahead of the final Carroll was alone up-front performing amicably but without a strike partner his knock-downs weren’t finding anyone, he became increasingly isolated and was restricted to direct easy-to-defend balls from wide areas.

Even with the positively surrounding Carroll at the minute, Liverpool still require another striker. Dirk Kuyt has probably played his last games for the club and for every team looking to mount a sustainable challenge on all fronts throughout the season three top-quality strikers are a necessity.

For the time being at least, it looks like Carroll has made a sharp turn towards the road of fulfilling his potential much to Liverpool fans’ pleasure. He may never live up the £35m price tag unfairly placed on his head but he can however become an important player in the development of Liverpool as they look to the future. As with everything with Andy Carroll however, there is always an element of doubt but maybe his time has come to shine in the red of Liverpool. Maybe, just maybe.

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