Should I stay or should I go (on loan) now? The Carroll conundrum

by Roddy Graham

Brendan Rodgers has been at Liverpool for little over a month but this week has made his strongest signal of intent regarding the current players at Anfield. When questioned over the possibility of letting transfer record-breaking striker Andy Carroll leave the club this summer on loan , Rodgers did not seem too concerned by the rumours surrounding a move away for the England international. His reply of “It’s something I would have to look at, I have to be honest,” when asked if Carroll could leave on loan does not seem to suggest that Rodgers sees Carroll as an integral part of his team this season. So where next for the player dubbed by former England manager, Fabio Capello, as the “perfect partner” for international team mate Wayne Rooney?

There are a number of reasons why Rodgers might not be too keen on keeping Carroll at Anfield inthe foreseeable future. One is these is the pressure of his huge transfer fee hanging over his neck, even 18 months after the deal was completed. When Liverpool paid £35 million to Newcastle on transfer deadline day in January 2011 for Carroll there was no talk over how crucial he would be to his then manager Kenny Dalglish’s squad or how he will develop into England’s leading striker over the next decade. Every mention of the player in the weeks and months that followed was regarding his transfer fee. Now I am not writing here today saying that Andy Carroll is a striker that is worth his £35 million fee. Ronaldo (fat one not current Real Madrid!), Christian Vieri and David Villa are all example of strikers who have moved for huge sums of money…but all cost less than the deal to take Carroll to Anfield. He was, and still is, the most expensive English player in footballing history. So the pressure to succeed for Carroll was immense. It didn’t help that he struggled initially with injury; only featuring in 9 games between his transfer in late January 2011 to the end of the 2010/11 season.

This pressure has a huge influence on his goals tally too. During his time at Newcastle, Andy played 80 times (57 of them starts) and scoring a decent 31 goals. Nothing out of this world by any means but for a young striker starting their trade as a target man, an acceptable standard. It was in Newcastle’s first season back in the Premier League after relegation to the Championship that Carroll really made his mark though. 11 goals by the turn of the year, including a hat-trick in his debut home game as the Newcastle “number 9″ against Aston Villa, got a host of clubs interesting in the striker. Tottenham were linked strongly but Liverpool were the club that paid the big bucks for the big man. But just 6 league goals in 42 matches for the Reds have lead to a huge shift in the reputation of Carroll. Once lauded for his aerial ability and powerful left-footed strike; Carroll has been laughed off as the biggest waste of a strikers’ transfer fee since Chelsea signed an aging Andriy Shevchenko back in the summer of 2006.

The main reason for Brendan Rodgers feeling that Carroll could be dispensable to his squad is the question of whether he will fit in with his specific footballing philosophy; a philosophy that ultimately got him his big chance at Anfield. In simple terms, Rodgers likes his team to get the football as quickly as they possibly can and keep it for as long as they can afterwards. His passing style of using short, quick paced passes between what he calls his “horizontal lines” of play is key. Carroll is a player that likes the ball lumped up to him so he can either attack from deep with a powerful header (see his goal against Sweden in the Euros as an example of this) or so he can flick the ball on to a striking partner using his strength and agility (a tactic employed by Roy Hodgson in the Euros as the combination pass between Joe Hart and Carroll was the most used in the quarter final against Italy despite Carroll only coming on at 60 minutes).  Rodgers style doesn’t tend to use many long passes. In an interview during his time as Swansea boss he describe how he got his side to “pass teams to a standstill so they can no longer come after you. Eventually you wear them down”. Either Rodgers changes his philosophy which got him the job in the first place or Carroll has to find another dimension to his game. Or leave the club; whichever is easiest for either parties.

But there is still a bright future for Carroll, be it at Liverpool or not. He is only 23, has a knack of scoring in crucial games (Merseyside derbies, FA Cup semi-final and final and for England at Euro 2012) and is still a handful for even the most experienced of centre back. He gave John Terry a torrid time in the FA Cup final in May and should have would have scored twice if not for the acrobatics of Petr Cech on the Chelsea goal-line. He made Terry look second rate at best in the rematch three days later at Anfield as Liverpool won 4-1.

There have been rumours that AC Milan would take Carroll to the San Siro for a season to partner for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, another hugely talented striker that was once accused of failing to deliver on a consistent basis; perhaps Carroll could learn a thing or two from the mercurial Swede. Again he has been linked with a return to Newcastle United but you feel that link will always ring its head at transfer window time until a) Carroll shows true form at Anfield and starts scoring the goals that his transfer fee was expected to bring or b) he actually does return and pull on the famous black and white shirt again. Tottenham, PSG, Malaga and long ball specialists Stoke City have been been mentioned too; the latter probably someone putting “long-ball” and “target-man” together to get the inevitable link!

Wherever Andy Carroll plays his football this season, either at Anfield or away from the Kop, I am sure that he will have a better season than the one just gone. He appeared to have regained some of his form that earned him his big money move to Liverpool at the back end of last season and, with an increase in his amount of first team football, may well get back to the heights he reached at St James’ Park. We’ve already seen fellow transfer-record striker,£50 million Fernando Torres, lift a Golden Boot this summer; could a rejuvenated Andy Carroll follow suit in the season to come?

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply