IN the blink of Kenny’s eye, as the first hint of traditional Wembley sun shine pierced the cloud canopy over west London, Andy Carroll dropped a shoulder, dropped his marker, pivoted and advanced in one concise movement that perhaps suggested, for the very first time, that Liverpool had indeed bought themselves a player of more than just literal stature.
In defeat against Fulham, at Anfield, just 4 days earlier, Carroll had impressed and depressed in almost equal parts. In displaying more focus and consistency he was rarely profligate in possession. A solid performer set against the efforts of his largely errant colleagues.
Yet, the abiding and inescapable conclusion though was that if we were now witnessing the mark 1 version Carroll, then maybe that told all that we regrettably needed to know – that he’s a player alright, but not one that modern Liverpool can or should willingly choose to accommodate.
His game, even at its peaks this season, demands a level of complicity from his team mates that has (arguably) diminished the greater good. Against Fulham, Carroll commanded the skies but remained totem-esque. He was never going to be the boy most likely to make the needed dash to the near post, to time a run beyond an offside trap, nor to carry the ball at his feet, draw defensive attention and make space for his attacking cohorts.
Carroll has suggested, season long, that even at the pinnacle of performance, he is all too locatable. That defences can easily mark his spot with an X, and make all necessary provision for any challenge or he cares to pose.
In his half Cup final cameo, though, Carroll suggested that he is a more complex and evolved beast than exasperated Liverpool supporters had hitherto dared to contemplate.
On the biggest of stages, he chose to showcase a new routine. He looked mobile, fleet of foot and with a focus to his decision making that hinted at a significant future. At Wembley he looked more than just a needy raging bull hoping for sustenance from wingers with their own crosses to bear.
Another slightly anxious looking Geordie swapped a comfort-zoned north eastern shore for the Mersey side of the country, 25 years ago. Peter Beardsley’s£2.9m price tag was 1987’s equivalent of the £35m Liverpool paid for Andy Carroll in 2011.
Beardsley was also a Dalglish purchase and, for the better part of his first 6 months in Liverpool’s red, looked every inch the expensive enigma that Carroll has proven to be. From August until nearly Christmas of 1987, Beardsley rarely hinted at delights to come. When his form and confidence eventually returned, the fizz-bomb that exploded across English top division fields bore no real resemblance to the tentative burdened figure of the previous autumn.
Beardsley had been neat and tidy, offered the odd composed finished and was clearly a slavishly dedicated team man. He had not though hinted at the dervish who would beat opponents with swivelling hips, thread passes through eyes of needles, and thwack the ball in from any and every angle.
Fate transpired that by the new year of 1988 Liverpool FC had themselves a new super star. After 6 months of settling for an earnest, but limited, trier, the wait had been worth the period of doubt. It was a lesson that a generation learned about the vagaries of new signings that may be echoing 25 years on.
Andy Carroll, like the ultimately super heroic Beardsley, may be showing the first signs that he is about to reveal his secret and true identity. It is possible that to date we have not come close to being able to appreciate the Geordie giant’s true capacity.
Against Chelsea at Wembley, Liverpool started with the 451 set-up that had served them well in 3 consecutive conquests of the west Londoners. The ‘1’ at the fulcrum of this 451 was inevitably the previous week’s hat-trick hero, Luis Suarez. Carroll, inevitably, had to settle for a place amongst the substitutes.
In concert, Suarez and Carroll have looked a partnership at times this season, and stats point towards there being much merit in pairing them. The managerial dilemma occurs when faced with the prospect of matching a heavy weight opponent with the punching power to inflict real pain if control of the midfield is surrendered.
When a 5 man midfield shield is the order of the day, the Carroll-Suarez combo simply can’t be shoe-horned into the one remaining forward slot. Or, so it seemed until about 6.30pm on Saturday night. From the moment of Andy’s big entrance he set the scene and rewrote the template for how Liverpool may set up in the near future.
So combative and all action was his display, so much breadth was there to his movement that Liverpool were in no less control of the ball for making do with just 4 in midfield . His increasing willingness to drop deeper and deeper to influence play has enabled him to bring his pent up aggression into the realm of the traditional central battle.
The net effect was that in the final half hour onslaught at Wembley, Liverpool did not in any way appear to suffer from deficiency of numbers in midfield, but certainly (in contrast to the first half) seemed to be profiting from having two direct attacking players working in tandem.
Carroll offered further evidence of his prowess with a dominant and (to quote his manager) ‘unplayable’ display, once more against a shell shocked Chelsea defence 3 days later. The surge, it seems, has come very late this season from the man upon whom Kenny Dalglish had gambled so much of his transfer equity .
The manager may not be able to win where Carroll is concerned. He is either damned for being author to British football’s most derided transfer story, or, if Carroll’s revival continues apace, he will be doubted as the man who clipped the wild one’s wings too often. The player himself seems unsure whether he is playing for the manager who staked so much upon him, or defiantly ‘sticking it’ to a mentor who often seems not to fully trust him.
Regardless, the LFC tribe can now begin to dream that they might just have the super star footballer they felt they had acquired nearly 18 months ago. Carroll’s 15month acclimatisation has made Peter Beardsley’s 6 month form-drought back in the 80s look the briefest of interludes.
What’s done is now done though. The evidence was there at Anfield’s 2011/2012 curtain-call thrashing of Chelsea that there may be a golden future for this Liverpool side after all. Maybe the time is coming for Liverpool and Carroll to fulfil a destiny that so many battered goal frames have born testimony to and to finally reclaim the skies. We may just be seeing the first signs of a quantum great leap forward.
Carroll looks a different player from just a couple of months ago, amazing what confidence, a goal and some self belief can do!!
One point though. I’m sure Beardsley cost £1.9 million, not £2.9 million.
Kevin Kean walked out on Dalglish in pique of rage when Kenny announced that Carroll was starting in the semi-final. Clearly its not just the fans that need convincing.
The great thing about being a 9 is that you are just a few games from being labelled world class. He did OK on Tuesday against a disinterested Chelsea side. He was dominant in the air and parsimonious in guarding possession. What worries is still the speed of thought, the direction of his runs and his inability to shoot. Enough to work on and breed hope? For sure. Enough to inflate his price so we can cash in and move on in-time? Hopefully.
“a needy raging bull hoping for sustenance from wingers with their own crosses to bear” – gorgeous prose Gutmann.
For £35 million goes down at the worst signing ever by us.
OK the lad has lost a bit of weight recently which enables him to be more mobile and run about more, but it will never give him a first touch or a football brain.
He hasn’t scored at Anfield for over a full calendar now for Christ sake ! #donkey
Nicely written piece – what people have forgotton is that The elephant in the room (Carroll) has had more than just à negative effect on the goals scored column
It has undermined the whole season and placed pressure on the key partnership between Camoli/Dalglish/HenryFSG (see Camoli sacking)
His remergence , along with Hendersons potential, vindicates Dalglish as à coach who still knows his business , add the two finals and remove the goal posts! in most of the league games, And suddenly Dalglish is bracketed as à winner again –
Lets just hope Henry comes to the same conclusions
the big man is boss
Good article Rob. Nicely written as per.
The last two games have shown an ‘all action’ type of footballer that this side has been screaming for all season. Recent evidence suggests that we might have a leader up top. An upfront general if you will. The problem all season I think has been creating chances. The big lad on current does exactly that. My favourite thing he did the other night was the assist for Agger’s goal. Pure presence. Saurez is a good enough footballer to play with anyone. It might just be time to rely on effective basics.
Carroll has looked a man inspired the past couple of months and long may it continue. But could this turnaround in form have as much to do with Andy, as it does his teammates finally working out how to play with him in the team? Whatever the reasons it’s made for good watching, he’s unplayable when he wants to be
I think the turning point for Carroll was his barracking at Newcastle. Up to then, I think he harboured thoughts of going back, like a lovesick boy upset at being dumped by his ex. Since then, he’s knuckled down to work on his current relationship, and the results are revelatory!
He’s turned from a clumsy striker to one that looks capable of becoming a cult hero at Anfield. I’m gonna give credit where it’s due and I think he’s done a great job transforming himself. Just hope he can keep this going into next season
They say two swallows do not make a summer so I fail to see why 2 games make a player a success, this is just another example of blind faith replacing reality. Before the cup final we were being told that 2 cups would represent a fantastic season, we got battered for 60 minutes and then resorted to lumping the ball long when 2-0 down. So now unable to bask in the glory of victory, we decide instead after 30 minutes and one meaningless fixture for Chelsea that Carroll is suddenly worth the insane amount of money we paid. Falcao is a topical & perfect example of what 35m should buy you, a world class performer at the top of his game.
Liverpool will be back shopping in the bargin basement again this summer after Kenny wasted the biggest transfer budget in the clubs history. The reality is that if we could get back what we paid for any of these players we would take it, bar Suarez, and that tells you everything you need to know about these signings.
Kenny Dalglish is a Liverpool icon and legend that will never change but his time as manager for me has come to an end, we spent 100 million last summer to drop a place in the league does that really count as success for us these days.
Forgot to mention the article itself and prose was great stuff, so thank you Rob, just don’t agree with the sentiment. And when are we going to wake up as fans and realise that when you hit the woodwork you have missed the target there is no luck involved just poor finishing from a lot of players selected and purchased by Kenny.
When are you going to wake up as a “Supporter”and realise that sometimes a young lad changing clubs can take a little while to acclimatise.
I’m getting sick and tired of hearing the player bashing going on at forums all over the internet. The lad’s 22, he’s been put in a hugely difficult place by his then club when they sold him. It wasn’t Dalglish that spent 100m pounds it was Liverpool Football Club’s negotiator (Comolli).
A few seasons ago I bought a Lucas playing jersey. The amount of abuse I got from “fans”telling me he was a joke of a footballer and not good enough for the club. Now when I wear it I get abuse from them because they think I’m rubbing it in!
Looking at this season, it’s fairly clear to me that both Hendo and Carroll are looking like good buys and Downing has not been too bad (although by no means outstanding). Did we pay more than they were probably worth? Maybe. But the important thing to remember is that it’s not $100m (sorry don’t have a pound sign on my keyboard), it’s about $20m a season over 5 years with FFP, and the bulk of the cost of the players purchased will last the club well beyond 5 years.
Just another thought here, but Carroll is a big Centre Forward. This type of player isn’t even born (in footballing terms) usually until they are in their mid to late 20’s. This kid is 22, he’s working hard, playing OK but ultimately is still a few seasons away from becomming the force he may yet become.
My ultimate point is – give him (and the other youngsters) a bit of time. They will come good if we as supporters (and not fans) actually just support them instead of getting on their backs.
No wonder we’re not so good at Anfield with the plastics we seem to be attracting there nowadays! We used to be known as a patient and knowledgable set of fans, now we’re in danger of just turning into Gen Y, instant gratification plastics and it’s a little bit galling to be honest.
Good piece Rob – I agree with much of it, just don’t necessarily expect upturned trees too quickly.
My problem has never been with Andy Carroll, my problem is people telling me what to think, and then calling me a plastic fan when I don’t agree with every word of Kenny Dalglish. If you think this makes me a plastic fan then I respectfully disagree and move on. My problem is the huge sums of money wasted on players last summer that at best may come good years from now. Remember FSG gave KD the money last summer with the goal of CL qualification, that was the target, not the carling cup or the FA cup. We had the opportunity last summer to buy players that could achieve this goal and be the bedrock of the Liverpool team for years to come. The manager got every player he wanted, so should have no excuses, the results are there for all to see.
1 the worst league run since 1953/54
2 the lowest goals since 1903
3 The lowest points finish for decades
4 Fulham first ever win at Anfield
5 won only 6 games out of 19 at anfield
6 the club look likely to drop a place in the league after spending 120millions.
Now if you in the face of all that feel we are moving in the right direction again I have to respectfully disagree, my problem is not with players its with the manager who brought them in and misused them for the whole season.
PS I’ve been a fan for over 30 years and every Liverpool fan should be entitled to his opinion, as for Lucas he came to the club after captaining brazil’s U20’s and being the leading goalscorer in Brazil’s top league whilst playing as an attacking midfielder, we paid 5.5m as opposed to 35m.
@Tommy Smith – Yes he has! Twice in fact. Get your facts right.
I must admit, I was one of the ones who had written Carroll off as a very expensive mistake. He’d shown so little in more than a year at the club, and often turned in embarrassing performances rather than just poor or anonymous, that such a view was entirely justified.
But, credit must go to the lad. He seems to have gone through a similar process to Lucas, and perhaps, like Lucas, has come out the other side a much more mentally strong individual.
To survive the stick he’s taken from every away set of supporters, from the home support at every away game he’s played, and the damning silence (at best) from his own supporters, and come out the other side not just still standing but with a new steely looking resolve, speaks volumes for his mental strength.
I take the point that 2 swallows don’t make a summer, but what he’s shown us at least in the last couple of months, and the last 2 games in particular, is that he’s capable of playing at a level that many of us never imagined before. Now we can quite legitimately expect that from him in future, and beg the questions when he doesn’t live up to it.
For me it’s a very bright note at the end of a really really weird season.
Great piece Rob
One swallow does not make a summer.
I’m glad that he seems to be finally waking up, but I’m still not convinced. Hopefully, he’ll do enough for us to re-coup £10m-£15m for him sometime in the next year.
The positive part of his Cup Final cameo was that he showed some effort. He actually ‘sprinted’. He laid the ball off to colleagues (rather than 2 yards behind them).
Don’t get me wrong – if the improvement continues I’ll reconsider. In fact, I’d be happy to be proved wrong.
But at the moment, I still think that he’s the wrong player for us, even if his fitness and effort improves.
Good article but I’m still in the doubters’ camp. I think Emile Heskey is a more appropriate precedent than Peter Beardsley. With Heskey, too, there was the odd moment of class (for example that goal against Bayern Munich in the Super Cup) that only served to increase the frustration with the general lack of effectiveness. Watching where Carroll moves off the ball does not convince me that he fits with with the style of play I want to see from LFC, and even in the last few games where he has undoubtedly performed better, he shows no real instinct to bust a gut and get into the box to get on the end of things.
actually, Peter Beardsley cost Liverpool £1.9M. and even by Israeli inflation standards, that wouldn’t equate to £35M on January 31st, 2011.