Andy Carroll is a man who polarises footballing opinion.
Some Liverpool fans think, given time, he will become a monstrous striker. The sort of player who gives goalkeepers sleepless nights and has centre-backs scrambling for their immodium. He may become a player who can toy with defences, hold them in the palm of his hand and then destroy them. A player who can dominate the air, whose link up play is decent and a left-foot like a panjandrum.
Those who defend him point to the last couple of months of last season, his time at Newcastle (particularly a performance where he marmalised Arsenal and even had arch-aesthete Wenger purring) and that stunning header against Sweden.
Others think he is a great pudding of a player; a player with the touch of a landmine and the turning circle of an oil tanker. They point to other performances for Liverpool when he has looked leaden, slow and disjointed. They point to the fact that he looked out of place in a fairly dismal Liverpool team. If he looked out of place last season in an oftentimes toothless Liverpool, they say, imagine how we will look with Rodgers in charge? Asking Carroll to finish the chances Rodgers’ team will create will be like asking Jackson Pollock to finish a Georges Seurat.
What happens next polarises Liverpool fans too.
Some think a man who cost £35m should be given more time. Others like the fact that Rodgers, a new man at the helm, has the brass-neck and big-balls to offload a big-name player. It might smack of arrogance on the Ulsterman’s part but then Liverpool fans like that. Some see a zealot; others see a man who is confident in his ideas. Some see a man who is on a doomed mission; others see a man walking through a storm.
What most agree on, however, is the idea of sending him on loan for a season (especially one rigged in such a way that Liverpool subsidise his salary). Either use him or lose him but don’t send him to footballing purgatory. Aquilani shows us that way lies madness – forever tantalising the support that he will either return and reign glorious or will, at least, bring in a juicy fee.
The only possible upside for Liverpool sending him on loan is one littered with downsides. If he has a stellar season his likely transfer fee will rise. Each goal he scores though will be a dagger to the heart of the support, a little dig at the Rodgers project. If – and it is an if – Rodgers’ team wobbles, and Carroll is banging in the goals, Brendan will look mighty silly doubly so if we are still paying Carroll’s wages.
If Carroll does do well, regardless of how well Liverpool do under Rodgers, it is likely the manager will be eating hunks of humble pie and may have to find a space for him regardless of system.
If Carroll, however, continues to bumble along – sometimes excellent, sometimes woeful – his transfer fee will drop and Liverpool will, once again, kick themselves. They will see a year of subsidising a player’s wages whilst losing value all the time.
If Carroll has a terrible season the problems of bumbling along are magnified although Rodgers looks like a seer for loaning him out.
Swansealona and Plan B
Rodgers is well-known for his ”Swansealona” approach to the game. There is a feeling that an old-style English forward can’t fit in a game based on possession, intricacy and manipulation of space. Rodgers did play with Danny Graham as a forward at Swansea but Graham is a more mobile player than Carroll and, moreover, Rodgers didn’t have either (a) the money to buy a player like Borini (b) have a player of the quality of Suarez to build a team around.
As it happens, I think Carroll is under-rated with the ball. There were a few times last season when he had his head up and a moment on the ball and he played sweeping passes around the pitch. That doesn’t necessarily mean he can fit into a free-flowing team.
A bigger challenge for him to fit into a Rodgers team is his part in an overall pressing game that Rodgers will implement. Liverpool’s other strikers (Borini, Suarez and Bellamy) are all mobile, quick and hyperactive. They will play a crucial part in that pressing game and will help ease the burden on the midfielders. Carroll, for all his strengths, isn’t noted for his work-rate or for his pressing. In Rodgers’ Liverpool the system is all. Carroll may have to be sacrificed for the good of the system.
There is an argument that Carroll should be Liverpool’s Plan B. The theory goes Liverpool can play the fancy stuff, the tiki-taka stuff, all it wants but – presumably on cold wet nights in Stoke – we might need to lump it to a big man. Others may say he will become an impact sub who with Liverpool drawing 0-0 after 70 minutes, having passed a team into submission, to throw on the matador to knife the bull.
This is all well and good and a £35 million England international Plan B is one that may be immediately appealing. However, it wouldn’t be good for Carroll and it probably wouldn’t be good for Liverpool or England. It takes a special sort of manager to convince an international player that the bench is the best place for him.
So Carroll polarises us. However, it is difficult not to feel sorry for him. It isn’t his fault that Liverpool struggled last season. It isn’t his fault that Dalglish didn’t seem to give him a run of games knackering his confidence. It isn’t his fault that Liverpool paid £35m for him which is an amount that is written in every article (including this one). Poor old Carroll.
Yet don’t feel too sorry for him. He may have the last word. Players have a history of wreaking revenge on their former clubs.