Despite his slightly yobbish, unlikeable character and his greasy ponytail, it is becoming increasingly difficult not to feel a little bit sorry for Andy Carroll. There is something altogether perverse about pitying a man who plays football – for a living, no less – at one of Europe’s most prestigious clubs; (probably) earns upwards of sixty thousand pounds per week; turns out for his national team; and holds the accolade of Britain’s most expensive footballer ever. And yet, I continue to find myself wishing the big man were just a little bit better than he actually is.
Mind you, this level of benevolence hasn’t always been appropriate. Just nineteen months ago he was efficiently and effectively leading the line for a distinctly mediocre Newcastle side, content only with consolidating their recently regained position in the Premier League. Carroll proved to be a big, clumsy fish in an average-sized pond. With eleven goals in nineteen games during his first season as a Premier League starter, Carroll generated more interest than a kitten capable of shitting gold bars.
He had the world at his cumbersome feet. Even his well-documented mild alcoholism (*Please note: Andy Carroll, to the best of my knowledge, is not, nor ever has been an alcoholic*) did little to quell his rapid ascent toward the summit of English football. Fabio Capello, England’s most successful post-war manager – based on win percentage – lauded Carroll as the future of the national team. He had the chance to immortalize himself among the Geordie faithful, to follow in the footsteps of some the great Newcastle strikers: Hughie Gallagher of the 1920’s, Jackie Milburn of the 40’s and 50’s, and more recently Alan Shearer, Faustino Asprilla and Temuri Ketsbia – famous for maliciously assaulting the advertising hoardings once.
But Carroll’s performances made him a wanted man, and not by the local authorities for a change. As the notoriously madness-inducing January transfer window opened there was very real interest from Tottenham, who reportedly had a bid in excess of £20 million turned down by Newcastle owner Mike Ashley, who, along with manager Alan Pardew, vehemently proclaimed Carroll would not be departing Tyneside. History suggested such proclamations should never be taken as gospel.
And it did little to deter Kenny Dalglish and Liverpool, who thought it a wise investment to offer such an implausible amount of money that even the most demented of cash-frittering fools (Roman Abramovich) would struggle to find remotely fathomable. There are only a small handful of players in the world that could justifiably command a higher fee than £35 million; Andy Carroll isn’t one of them, and with that, Ashley hastily snapped Liverpool’s metaphorical arm off.
In most ordinary cases a mega-money move is a step on the path to greatness. But this was an extraordinary transfer and, for Carroll, it has been eighteen months of, perhaps not total misery, but not far from it. The exorbitant fee puts him in the uncompromising position of being judged against the standards expected of a player worth £35 million, rather than on his own merits. He simply doesn’t measure up.
Blame doesn’t rest on Carroll’s burly shoulders though; he’s had less luck than Friday the 13th. After all, it’s not his fault Liverpool broke the British transfer record to sign him, or that he was injured for the first two months of his career on Merseyside. Nor is it his fault that the man responsible for bringing him to the club was sacked, or that the man brought in to replace the man responsible for brining him to the club plays a style of football that is not in the slightest bit conducive to Carroll’s abilities.
This is by no means an Andy Carroll-bashing session, though. Far from it, in fact. The big man certainly has his uses, and I’m not just referring to the fact that you could fit him with a bridle and have him pull the team bus in the event of a breakdown. Carroll is what he is: a decent Premier League target man, whose brawn and ability in the air are his best attributes. As he showed at Newcastle, he can thrive playing in the right team. Carroll at Liverpool might just be case of a square peg in a round hole.
But Brendan Rodgers has done his absolute best during his first six weeks as Liverpool manager to subtly discourage Carroll from believing he might have any sort of future at the club, without actually saying it definitively. If signing Fabio Borini from Roma for £12 million isn’t a clear enough indication, admitting that the club are willing to listen to offers for Carroll certainly is. It is surprising that Rodgers is so quick to dismiss Carroll’s worth after he ended the season with promise and performed decently in his only start at Euro 2012.
Former club Newcastle and West Ham have both expressed an interest in Carroll. And while he could be considered the perfect number nine to spearhead a Sam Allardyce team, Newcastle have evolved since his departure, and a return could upset the balance of Alan Pardew’s side that enjoyed much success last season. Carroll’s fall from grace is perfectly portrayed by the fact that his most suitable club might be one that is newly promoted to the Premier League.