Andy Carroll: What Might Have Been

The dying hours of the January 2011 transfer window saw Liverpool fans glued to television screens and laptops, as dramatic scenes unfolded before their eyes. Fernando Torres, idolised by many, quit the club for Chelsea in acrimonious circumstances, but was immediately replaced by two new potential Kop idols: Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll.

While Suarez has arguably reached the same dizzy heights as the Spaniard before him, Carroll’s path has been more turbulent with the Geordie target man now gone in a £15.5 million move to West Ham. It is well established that Brendan Rodgers did not see the £35 million signing in his plans upon taking charge of Liverpool in June 2012, but can Carroll’s failings solely be attributed to Rodgers’ lack of patience, or did he fail to take the chances he had already been given by previous incumbent Kenny Dalglish?

Initially blighted by niggling injuries following his transfer to Anfield, the remainder of the 2010/11 season saw the powerful #9 make just seven appearances for Liverpool, scoring two goals, both in an impressive 3-0 victory over Manchester City. However it was hoped that, during the 2011/12 season, Carroll would realise the potential that he had shown on Tyneside, particularly with the additions of Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam and Jordan Henderson to the team. Many observerssaw Kenny Dalglish’s movements in the Summer 2011 transfer window as an attempt to bring in players who had excellent reputations for quality distributionin order to best utilise Carroll’s undeniable aerial prowess, and there is certainly support to this insight. Adam and Downing had each provided nine assists at their respective clubs during the previous campaign, the joint-fifth highest number of assists in the league for that season.

Yet despite playing in a team built to suit his strengths, Andy Carroll managed just nine club goals in the following term, only two of which were with his head. In contrast, fellow striker Luis Suarez scored five headed goals for the club and was more prolific overall with seventeen strikes in total. Both forwards had the same players behind them supplying the ammunition, but Suarez was far more clinical. This suggests a failure on Carroll’s part to convert his goal scoring opportunities, especially since Liverpool’s chance creation was certainly not lacking, having produced 162 successful crosses over the course of the season, according to Opta.

Some argue that Kenny Dalglish did not give Carroll a fair crack of the whip during this season due to Suarez’s excellent form, and this is true to an extent. Although Suarez made four fewer league appearances than Carroll’s thirty-five owing to the Uruguayan’s lengthy ban for racism, Big Andy played less minutes (2,073 compared to Suarez’s 2,545), coming on as a substitute an astounding fourteen times. However, minutes-per-goal stats can provide a fairer assessment of a striker’s success, and with these two players the gulf is all too evident. Suarez took 231 minutes per goal in 2011/12, whereas there was an average of 518 minutes between Carroll’s goals, showinghe didn’t exactly force himself into Dalglish’s plans.

Carroll also consistently failed to build on encouraging performances, such as the 2-0 victory against Everton in October 2011 in which he scored the opening goal. Despite showing such promise, Carroll didn’t even make King Kenny’s starting line-up for the following game against Manchester United. Only Dalglish knows the real reason for this, but the fact that he did not trust his #9 in one of the biggest games of the season, especially after impressing in the previous fixture, can surely only be related to his performance and application in training.

In fairness, Carroll’s astronomical transfer fee always weighed heavily on his back, and must be taken into account when judging his success at Liverpool. The most expensive British player was, in some respects, doomed to fail – even when he enjoyed on-field success his value was questioned, despite the fact it was not his fault that Mike Ashley demanded such an extortionate price.

Carroll is not the first player to struggle to shake off a high price tag .. a similar situation occurred with Fernando Torres after his £50 million move to Chelsea. Marquee signings are not guaranteed to succeed, and often the less publicised transfers are the ones that work out better, whether this is reality or simply public perception. Comparing Carroll to the less expensive signing of Daniel Sturridge proves this. Sturridge is thought to have cost Liverpool in the region of £12 million, but has already scored 10 league goals for the Reds in 14 appearances, compared to Carroll’s 6 goals in 44.

Overall Andy Carroll’s time at Liverpool had a definite sense of what might have been, and at no point was this truer than the 81st minute of the 2012 FA Cup Final. Carroll, a second-half substitute, had already grabbed one goal in a dominant display, but was denied the all-important equaliser as Petr Cech cleared the striker’s header off the line. Had that strike travelled just a few more inches Liverpool may have gone on to win the cup, Kenny Dalglish may have kept his job, and Andy Carroll may still be Liverpool’s Number 9.

Although Carroll did not live up to his reputation in his one full season in a Liverpool shirt, this was not the only motive behind his subsequent loan move to West Ham in 2012/13. It was the appointment of Brendan Rodgers that was the final nail in the coffin. Rodgers’ tactics did allow for other players who had been judged as failures under Dalglish to earn a reprieve, namely Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing, but Carroll was the exception.

Rodgers saw no room for the Geordie giant. The manager’s preference for a more fluid and mobile attacking three gives the edge to strikers who are equally adept in a wide forward role: such as Daniel Sturridge, Fabio Borini and recent acquisition IagoAspas. In the second half of last season Sturridge scored more goals than Carroll had in his entire Liverpool career, in a team with a clear possession-based playing philosophy. Meanwhile Carroll flourished under the tutelage of Sam Allardyce at West Ham, a manager renowned for ‘Route One’ football.

From Ian St. John to Luis Suarez, via Rush, Fowler, Owen and more, Liverpool have been fortunate enough to have had a wealth of top strikers over the years, but Andy Carroll failed to add his name to the Anfield history books. No one will mourn his sale, unlike that of Owen or Torres – or potentially Luis Suarez this summer. Yes Liverpool overpaid, but Andy Carroll can only really have himself to blame for a failed eighteen months at Liverpool.

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