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.