With Andy Carroll looking like he may be on his way out of Anfield, is it fair to describe his time at Liverpool as a flop? A return to Newcastle seems imminent but to portray it as slinking back with his tail between his legs would be unfair to the rangy striker. As Ireland found out in Gdansk, trying to fill the gaps left by Fernando Torres can leave you isolated.
Carroll’s deadline day signing in January 2011 as a replacement for Chelsea-bound Torres at a staggering £35 million pound fee – making him the most expensive British footballer ever and the 8th most expensive of all time – suggested a panic buy for a player who was injured at the time. The expectation placed on the Geordie’s shoulders by a massive price tag, coupled with a lengthy spell on the physio‘s table before he could make his début, heaped huge pressure on him to replicate the feats of European and World Champion Torres.
It is widely opined that Liverpool’s style of play did not suit the 6ft 3in striker’s game and he never got the type of delivery he had received at Newcastle, where the game was built around his strengths. Steven Gerard seemed to be the only Reds player who could deliver a ball of considerable quality to Andy Carroll’s head.
The premium which the British, and by extension Irish game, places on grit and endeavour versus the triangles and simple passing we saw in such evidence when Spain ran riot against Ireland in Gdansk, shows up the limitations of the way Andy Carroll was utilised at Liverpool. When a striker leaps to head on a long punt from defence and wins a header against his opposing defender, he is roundly applauded by the supporters in the stands. Why? What does this achieve?
When the Spanish beat Ireland 4-0 at Euro 2012, their play was made up of simple triangles – pass and make space to receive the ball. The great Spain team made up of some of the world’s most skillful players rarely relied on trickery to round a player. They would simply pass it around their opponent. Their play was never a rush to get the ball as quickly as possible to the opposition goal. When a Spaniard ran into a corner he was never afraid to pass it back, to keep possession rather than fire a hopeful ball into the box.
When Andy Carroll was fed a ball from his team mates at Liverpool, what was the best he could achieve? Gain ground like in a rugby match? A nod on to another player? Who was he going to prod it onto if he was the furthest forward?
Would a return to Tyneside be an admission of failure for the striker who’s still just 23-years-old? Robbie Keane’s comeback at White Hart Lane from Anfield seems to mirror Carroll’s possible return to the Magpies. Keane had hit a vein of form for Liverpool and followed it by being dropped by a manager who seemed to be using the Irish captain as a political pawn in the struggle for power within the Merseyside club. The Tallaghtman’s second coming at his old club was not a success and Robbie never hit the heights of his pre-Liverpool move. Could Brendan Rodgers decision to offload Andy Carroll be a similar exercise in political statements? Is the Northern Irish man making a declaration about his team and his style of play to lay down the law in his first months in charge at a new club?
Carroll’s improving form at the tail end of last season and his powerful header for England against Sweden in this year’s Euros point to him beginning to become the player that his free-scoring season in the Championship, and first half of Newcastle’s return to the Premier League, suggested. If he were given a full season at Liverpool we might see him grow into the role as a true successor to Fernando Torres.