Pre-season, the most nightmarish time in any football fan’s year; rumours, gossip and hearsay abound, players are linked with moves here and there, often on no surer grounds than a whimsical thought in the mind of a journalist. Nothing is certain, very little is verified and to top it off, there’s not even any decent football to watch on TV. It is a little piece of hell that we football lovers have to endure every year.
One of the strongest rumours to have broken through into the mainstream press, and therefore the public consciousness, over the weekend is the possible departure of Andy Carroll from Liverpool. The 6ft 4” Geordie was signed from Newcastle, for a club record £35 million, in January 2011 by former manager and Kop hero Kenny Dalglish. It is widely known that the Liverpool hierarchy paid vastly over the odds for the powerful striker and, although Kenny Dalglish shouldered all the blame for the deal, like the true gent that he is, it is clear to many that the now departed Director of Football at Anfield, Damien Comolli, played no small part in negotiating the agreement and settling on the exorbitant price tag.
The circumstances surrounding the purchase of Andy Carroll from Newcastle United might have had a lot to do with just how such a staggering figure could have been agreed. With this statement, I am talking about the sudden transfer request handed in by Fernando Torres on transfer deadline day and, of course, the subsequent sale of the best striker to don a red shirt and play in front of the Kop since a certain Robbie Fowler came of age. The loss of Torres at such a crucial juncture, with just hours remaining in which to replace him, coupled with the huge £50million fee that Chelsea parted with to secure his services, had a two pronged effect. Firstly panic, Liverpool needed a replacement and quickly. The second effect however was to embolden the club to the extent that, in order to get a replacement, money would be no object, and so it proved.
Fast forward eighteen months to the situation as it now is. Liverpool Football Club have, for the third season running, a new man in charge, with new ideas and a different, albeit only slightly, philosophy. Brendan Rodgers is by now known almost primarily for his footballing philosophy and his adherence to and belief in it. The tiki-taka style, of which we have seen so much with Spain, Barcelona and closer to home, Swansea in recent times, is at the forefront of the modern game and it is a philosophy which Rodgers espouses completely.
The feeling amongst the mainstream press is that Andy Carroll will not fit this philosophy and that Brendan Rodgers has decided upon this fact already, before even having a look at the striker in pre-season training. Is this really the case though? Can Andy Carroll adapt his game slightly under tuition from Rodgers? Would Brendan Rodgers, meticulous as we know him to be, really decide upon the future of a player without even having a look at him first?
Carroll is not the anti-football merchant that many of the article writers and “opinion makers” out there would have us all believe, far from it in fact. Yes, he is big and strong and great in the air, but that is a long way from being the end of his rainbow. In his first season playing in the Premier League at Newcastle, the Magpies played to his strengths of getting the ball in early and forming their game around “the big man”, he looked like a world beater.
At Liverpool however, Carroll suffered, for several reasons. Firstly, the massive price tag brought huge expectation. Despite Carroll maintaining that the fee didn’t affect him, it affected the supporters who initially gave him much less support in his early struggles than they did with Peter Crouch, for example. At times last season, with the crowd on his back and the media ridiculing him regularly, Carroll seemed to literally shrink with every poor touch or misplaced shot. Secondly, Carroll struggled to settle to life on Merseyside, away from his friends and family and, owing to a persistent injury which he arrived at Anfield with, it took a long time to regain his fitness and to become a regular starter for Liverpool. Thirdly, and perhaps of most importance, Carroll struggled because Liverpool’s style did not revolve around only playing to his strengths, nor should it have. Carroll had to learn. He had to redouble his efforts in training, improve his fitness, hunger and game awareness and he had to modify and adapt his game to suit the club that he was now a part of.
He did it though and from February onwards a different player emerged in the number 9 shirt; still big, strong and powerful, but now confident enough in his own ability to show it. Much fitter, displaying a much more assured touch and game intelligence, his link-up play and goal threat had improved exponentially too since the dark early days of his Anfield career. Many have criticised Kenny Dalglish for the way that he used Carroll and for the fact that he used him sparingly, however, apart from not starting him in the F.A. Cup final, it seems that Dalglish managed him fairly perfectly, given the dramatic improvement that was witnessed over the course of the season.
What all this proves is that Carroll can learn and, more importantly, is willing to be taught. It also proves that he has learnt a great deal in his short time at the club and appears to have the hunger and desire to be educated further in order to become a better player. There are arguments for and against the sale of Andy Carroll by Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool football club and this appears to me to be one of the stronger arguments against any proposed move, especially given his tender years.
Looking at the ins and outs of a move away for Carroll, the first thing to say is that a loan move should be out of the question. In recent years, Liverpool have been massively burnt by loan-deals with a supposed option to buy at a later date. Take Joe Cole and Alberto Aquilani for example, both long-term loanees, both on high wages which Liverpool have had to pay most, if not all of during their times away and both back at the club now for pre-season training with no guarantee that they’ll make a significant contribution to the team or take a wage cut to move on. Another reason why a loan would be folly is this: Carroll isn’t going to learn to play the Rodgers way if he goes on loan to Newcastle or West Ham or anywhere else in England for that matter and, short of going to Barcelona or Ajax on loan, he is very unlikely to come back a better player.
Selling Carroll now might be attractive to Rodgers because the striker’s value might be at its peak after a good second half of the season and a decent performance at the Euros. Whilst Liverpool have money in reserve for transfers and are willing to spend big if they can identify value in the market, there is no doubt that if a bid of £20m plus came in for Carroll from anywhere, Liverpool would be unlikely to turn it down. However if Carroll could be integrated into the system, which if we’re honest isn’t a million miles away from the pass and move style returned to Anfield by Kenny Dalglish last year, then 20 goals next season may be a better return than £20m
The rumours circulating about his departure, with interest apparently registered from West Ham and Newcastle, emanated from a press conference which Brendan Rodgers gave last week in which he failed to issue a “hands off” warning in regards to the player and appeared to entertain the idea of a loan deal. However, as was alluded to on The Anfield Wrap podcast (16/7) this may have been a ploy by Rodgers, a managerial tactic picked up from his days with Jose Mourinho.
This strategy is outlined in a piece by Roy Henderson on level3football.com. Written a year ago, it describes how Mourinho likes to single out a young player with room to grow that he feels is mentally tough. He then challenges that player to improve, often through public criticism and praise at the right time, whilst using him to re-inforce to the rest of the team the message he wants to get across. It has worked with several players at different clubs for Mourinho, including JoeCole at Chelsea and Karim Benzema at Real Madrid. Whether this is what Rodgers is trying with Carroll is open to debate but he certainly has the ability to grow, is mentally strong and given his youth and potential, it would make sense.
Whatever happens in the next few weeks before the transfer window slams shut, Liverpool fans should place their faith in Brendan Rodgers to get his decisions right and build the team in the image that he sees fit. If Carroll leaves, for the right price, it will not be a disaster, it won’t even be a mistake if Rodgers feels that there’s no way he can use him. However, don’t be surprised either if all this paper talk is just smoke and mirrors, the manager may just have big plans for the big man.
Carroll/Torres image Shellingz aka Shelling Bisetsu.
Carroll image by dannymol aka Danny Molineux
Rodgers image by Strabanephotos aka John Campbell.