Every Liverpool fan remembers the day Andy Carroll was signed. Indeed, so does every United, Arsenal and Chelsea fan that came at a new £35 million stick to beat us with.
And there was nothing we could do to retaliate. Yes, we could argue that Carroll would prove his worth as a marquee signing; but not one of us could argue he was ever worth such an exorbitant fee.
Our heads sunk; there was a sense of disappointment and understandable bewilderment. It was bad business; something for which Kenny Dalglish and Damien Commoli have regrettably paid the price.
The problem was simple; the huge void left by Fernando Torres’ departure could not be filled by just splashing the cash. Nor could it be resolved by a quick-fix that wasn’t thoroughly planned.
But worse, 19 months on and Liverpool were reportedly considering selling the 23 year-old for nowhere near his initial fee. Some fans were lost for words; bad business indeed.
So where did it all go wrong? And why did the transfer policy that successfully recruited the likes of (long list coming up) Sami Hyypia, Jon-Arne Riise, Xabi Alonso, Fernando Torres, Jose Manuel Reina, Javier Mascherano, Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger seemingly fall on its head?
As ever, and however boring it may seem, there were several factors. Initially, Liverpool were only hurting themselves by offering anywhere near what they did for the Newcastle target-man. The pressure of his new valuation would always be a hindrance and Carroll has clearly felt it ever since.
The England front man simply hasn’t delivered his best – but not for a lack of trying. His heart is in it; his effort is there. His form even took an upturn at the end of last season, as he looked ‘unplayable’ against Chelsea (twice) and scored important winners against Blackburn Rovers in the league and Everton in the FA Cup.
And there was even a fine display at the Euros for England – not to mention a superb headed goal against Sweden. In fact, Carroll may perhaps end the biggest victim in all of this – a hard-working, promising talent whose fledgling career may only go downhill from here.
But Carroll is not free of any blame, as the centre of the issue is his return of 11 goals in 56 games – it just has not been good enough.
Unfortunately, Kenny Dalglish’s tactics did not help bed in the signing that became the hallmark of his second spell as Liverpool manager. When a target-man is bought for £35 million and no tactical emphasis is placed on delivering crosses into the box, simply put – something is wrong.
And when this £35 million target-man produces a stunning performance and is dropped the very next game, simply put – something else is very wrong. Indeed, Liverpool’s system did not suit Carroll one bit last season.
But now that Dalglish is gone, new Brendan Rodgers is reported to doubt Carroll’s value in the fluid 4-3-3 system he will put in place. There seems to be no luck for the England striker.
With immediate interest from both West Ham United and Newcastle United, Liverpool flirted with the prospect of letting Carroll go for a cut-price deal this summer. Both teams reportedly made loan bids with a view to a permanent transfer totalling between around £15-£20 million.
The situation went as far as Liverpool accepting a bid from West Ham, with Carroll electing to stay at Anfield or at the very least highlighting Newcastle as his preferred option were he forced out of the door. Carroll’s short-lived Liverpool career was close to ending before he could make any real impact.
However, with the current state of play, Carroll looks likely to stay at the Merseyside club. The Metro recently quoted Rodgers as stating that Carroll must ‘fight for his position if he wants to play games’ but that he has been ‘terrific’ in pre-season.
And the Kop faithful seem delighted with the idea of young forward staying on, greeting his warm up off the bench against FC Gomel with a huge cheer. Indeed, if Carroll is to stay at the club that forked out millions for him, there could be plenty more to cheer about.
Rodgers may be intent on introducing a new philosophy at Anfield – one that rightly teaches players to optimise possession and play skilful, technical football – but he must remember how important this season is for Liverpool Football Club. We may have already seen signs of an exciting season to come with a vibrant attacking performance against FC Gomel, but Rodgers needs to think twice before stripping the club of a valuable asset.
Though Rodgers may prefer ball-playing attackers like Suarez and Borini, Carroll offers a fantastic alternative tactical option. As a ‘Plan B’ striker, Carroll may be the key to winning games comfortably or struggling to a 0-0 draw against defence-minded teams.
Indeed, Barcelona aptly demonstrated that when a team sits back and defends for their lives against you, you need to change your approach to break them down. The Catalan side didn’t have the variety to change their system and consequently suffered a semi-final Champions League exit at the hands of Chelsea.
But sides like Real Madrid – with Gonzalo Higuain often offering a world-class alternative from the bench – and Manchester City did. And because of their strength in depth up front, they won titles.
Even Spain had Alvaro Negredo in the Euros; of course, they didn’t use him, but over a 60-game season, they would – and on many occasions. If, on a wet Tuesday night at Stoke (as the saying goes), Liverpool are struggling to break the deadlock after 70 minutes, in Carroll would step, offering height and strength for crosses and set pieces.
Certainly, there is no need for route one football. But in the modern age, why limit yourself to one way of playing? Some of the Premier League’s best and most frequent goals have come from crosses and set pieces.
If Manchester United are not afraid to cross in to Wayne Rooney for a headed goal, why should Liverpool be afraid to use Carroll in the same way?
Yet it is of course down to Rodgers to ultimately decide where, when and how often Carroll will be playing his football this season. One can only hope that the Northern Irishman gives the precocious front man a chance.
Carroll may not have moved mountains yet, but a slow starter can often turn into a race winner. Just ask Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, last season’s Champions League winners Chelsea and anyone else patient enough to stay the course. In fact, why not ask Usain Bolt how he won Olympic Gold in the 100 metres.