£35m. 58 appearances. 11 goals.
THEY are the miserable figures that will no doubt dominate conjecture on Andy Carroll’s torturous Liverpool career. But they shouldn’t, because to understand Carroll’s stay on Merseyside requires more than just a glance at the vital statistics. To some the figures damage Carroll’s reputation, especially given his rapid rise up the Premier League scoring charts and into the England setup in 2010. But instead they are more revealing of the mess that was Liverpool Football Club in that time, than Andy Carroll the footballer.
Remember the 31st January, 2011? A seismic day in the recent history of Liverpool Football Club. A day that saw Fernando Torres vacate the hallowed number 9 shirt, to be replaced by Newcastle United striker Andy Carroll.
At the time it was barely believable, barely credible. But it did happen. The loss of El Niño was shattering in such dramatic circumstances, and caused the brief upward turn in his form following the arrival of Dalglish to be airbrushed from subsequent discourse. Indeed the sum of £50m, alongside 15 goals in 82 league appearances for Chelsea, has softened that blow quite considerably.
But of course, Chelsea and Roman Abramovich were prepared to pay that eye-watering figure because of who Fernando Torres the footballer had been between 2007 and 2010; 58 goals in those three injury-hampered seasons – all from open-play remember – were fresh in the memory. His sluggishness for Liverpool that season was put down to Roy Hodgson and his own antipathy.
But enough of him. The point is, Chelsea had good reason at the beginning of 2011 to be spending big bucks on a prolific goalscorer who seemingly needed just a change of environment to rediscover his touch. Liverpool, Damien Comolli, FSG and, sadly, Kenny Dalglish too, were grossly negligent in investing £35m of that money for someone, who, at the time, had registered just 14 goals in the top-flight.
Andy Carroll was doomed from the start; he could not be Fernando Torres Mk II.
It’s one thing to be the direct replacement for one of the most iconic strikers in the recent history of Liverpool Football Club, but to smash a British transfer record in the process, all while being injured, had a profound effect on his time at Anfield.
Dalglish made a point of repeating the assertion that the Geordie was ‘here for five years, not five weeks’. But even when Carroll returned to full fitness after a stop-start end to the 2010-11 season, it never felt entirely like that. The treatment of Carroll was decidedly counter-intuitive and contradictory.
Rightly or wrongly, and most camps of consensus lean towards the latter, the formula of building around Luis Suarez, stumbled upon in the spring of 2011, was abandoned in favour of the £35m recruit. The summer acquisitions of Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam, even Jose Enrique to a certain extent, were aimed at bringing the best out of the 6ft 3in Carroll; for a total fee in excess of £40m.
Yet the striker was chronically misused by Dalglish throughout the 2011-12 season. He never started three games in a row, and given that Suarez missed nine matches at the start of 2012 that is pretty unforgivable. He was never allowed to find a rhythm, or time to breathe in the first team, and so it is little surprise that he failed to hit the ground running.
It’s quite simply poor management. Equally confusing was a seeming reticence to pair Carroll with Downing, when you’d assume the pair were a natural fit.
A 0-0 draw with Stoke in January 2012 is a case in point, when, with Liverpool playing three centre-backs, Dalglish introduced Carroll with half-an-hour to go, only to haul off Downing in exchange. It happened at a similar juncture at Old Trafford, St. James’ Park and at home to Arsenal and Aston Villa; none of which Liverpool won.
In the grand scheme of things it may not amount to much, but it does at least point to befuddled management of which only Dalglish is culpable.
Yet Carroll was also culpable of drawing the ire unto himself – who can forget that atrocious dive at Newcastle? He also suffered for appearing lead-footed, entirely graceless on the ball and possessing a remarkable propensity for falling over. And that’s not even to mention the ponytail. Too often he was lumbering and ponderous; someone to beat a stick at as Liverpool registered their lowest league points tally since 1954.
But Carroll’s output flourished as the 2011-12 season drew to a close. To many the £35m price-tag was somewhat justified by his late winner against Everton in the FA Cup semi-final; it afforded him something akin to a cult status.
It was quite a spring flourish, allied with his thumping winner at Blackburn a couple of days before and that barnstorming second-half cameo in the final against Chelsea which came so close to repairing the damage of an insipid first hour.
After an encouraging end-to-the-season and a decent showing at Euro 2012, which included another thumping headed goal, hopes were high. Carroll had developed an affinity with the supporters, who applauded and appreciated his hard graft.
But his bulking frame did not fit the Brendan Rodgers blueprint. Given Dalglish’s misuse of the striker, it would be unfair to blame a change in managership for his estrangement, but his improved performances at the back-end of the previous season had put him back in the reckoning, and with the chance to kick-on afresh.
His swift exile under Rodgers was a disappointment; but to have gleaned £15m after his rather modest year at West Ham is extremely refreshing. The club now, in June 2013, has an entirely more coherent transfer policy than it did 29 months ago.
The Andy Carroll Experience was a brutal, yet perhaps necessary experience for FSG. It set the club back two-and-a-half years, to where it finds itself now; no nearer the Champions League, but at least with a clear policy and structure in the transfer market. Carroll may have arrived as a £35m signing; but given the debacle of summer 2011, his true cost was nearer £70m.
Ultimately, no matter Dalglish’s frequent protestations, Liverpool could not afford to wait five years for him to mature as a person and grow into that £35m price tag. Strikers of his stature – bulky, 6 foot +, reliant on their muscular frame more than speed or agility – tend to take time to adjust to their body. Fernando Llorente didn’t become prolific at Athletic Bilbao until he was 24/25, whilst Didier Drogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, widely considered as the masters of this profile, only became so in the mid-to-late parts of their career.
The Geordie is a colossus in the air; it is a side of his game, in fact it is the only side of his game, and it will improve as time goes on. Liverpool, to their folly, failed to use him effectively.
At West Ham, and under Sam Allardyce’s own particular football vision, he will have that opportunity to grow. His attributes are entirely suitable for a team with limited ambitions, but perhaps not one with rather loftier aims; he is not a flat-track bully and still lacks the killer instinct of his peers.
Andy Carroll is now 24; the next five years of his development are career-defining and will shape him as a footballer, not his abortive two-and-a-half year fiasco on Merseyside.
A shame he’s gone. I loved the way he bullied JT and co in the FA cup final. Could have been our version of Big Dunc!!!
Don’t think we learnt our lesson from Aquilani (who I noticed started for Italy the other day in Pirlo’s absence); buying a good player who’s injured could leave him desparately behind the eight ball from which he may never recover to integrate with the team.
Think we’ve been more than a bit fickle over Carroll this past year. Somehow “he’s a big Liverpool player for next season” after the cup final cameo became “take whatever we can get for him” as if he’s like… Adam or Joe Cole useless. People are happy about a 20m loss; so much for ‘moneyball’, eh?
Thinking back to that final when everyone in red (Suarez and Gerrard included) ironically looked like they’d been on the ale the night before, Carroll of all people was the only one who came out of that game well. Taking the game by the scruff of the neck like Crouch and ’05-’06 Stevie’s awkward, unplayable love child, he was millimetres from having a cup final named after him.
The fact that we struggled for goals in 2011/2012 then loaned one of our two senior strikers out while only bringing one in last summer still wrecks my head. Any hopes of Rodger’s first season being a tangible success were shattered from the off. We’d already played most of our games by late January when the bare minimum forward options were brought in with the season effectively over in terms of what we could achieve in the league… And the league cup. And the FA cup. And Europe because the January signings were cup tied.
A TAW shout that never fails to resonate with me is when Kristian Walsh references the ruthlessly, pragmatic transfer window of summer 2005. It was brought up recently and this time last year I remember right before Kenny was sacked when he was about to bring in Diame on a free. We seem to be going the opposite route.
Don’t get me wrong I think we need squad depth in attack as well and after Coutinho, I think most fans trust our new scouting network to find more hits than misses and I’ve no doubt Aspas and Alberto are talented players who could be similar gems, but we have those type of gifted footballers like Suarez and Coutinho already creating chances and scoring frequently while we are still short of midfield metal and need another CB. 9m on a keeper when Reina might not be going anywhere feels like a bit of a luxury we can’t afford right now as well. If, like in frustrating draws and losses (I’m thinking of games like West Ham and Villa at home) we start running out of ideas and just start pumping crosses into the box over the head of Aspas/Alberto/Coutinho/Suarez/even Sturridge where Carroll could be last 20 mins I won’t be best pleased personally.
I hope I’m not making him out to be a world beater that he isn’t. His mobility was limited, but so was Crouch’s who we qualified for and consistently got far in the Champion’s League with as an option. Carroll wasn’t suitable for a ‘control and domination of the ball’ system – which was of course dropped for more direct counter attacking as soon as we wanted to actually win some games. The best side in Europe last season won the CL final playing simple but smart footy off a big lad upfront in the end, don’t forget.
The only shame is we spunked 35 million quid on him.. Jesus imagine if we had that now, or even the balance of 20 million. Expectations are going down for sure. Every time I see his smiling face I want to punch it. Every time I see Juan Mata dominate a game I feel like it was my fkn money that was pissed up a wall. Every time some fkwit online told me that Downing was going to be supplying the crosses for that overpaid twat like we were stuck in 1973 I could have kicked his face in. 35 million. FUCK!!!!
Very nice piece James.
As you say, the transfer was ill-thoughtout from the start. The argument at the time was “we got £50m for Torres so spending £35m on carroll is no big deal” er..yes it is! If I sold my house for £400,000 I wouldn’t suddenly look at a one-bed flat with damp that cost £300,000 and go: “if I buy that I’ll be £100,000 in profit – lets go for it”. No, I’d think that flat is not what I want so ill keep looking till I find something better. Basic stuff, really.
The end of the season flourish aside (The “Carroll Spring”?), he was utter shite – Always on his heels, always 5 yards behind the play, never fucking fit, missing very easy chances.
But in spite of that, I do have a soft spot for Wor Andy. I guess a couple of goals against the shite will do that for a player.
Good luck to him.
Comolli put faith in winning headers, bought Carroll off the back of it, and big Andy won more headers than any other PL player in 2011/12.
But clearly that’s not enough, in reality. If we’d paid £15m for him as an option, and built the team around Suárez instead of him, who knows how things would’ve worked out? Better, presumably…
The fact that Sturridge has scored as many goals for us in 35% of the pitch time and for 35% of the price does at least illustrate that the club have learned their lesson from the Carroll & Co debacle.