The Geordie and the General
Alright, now that the dust has settled — and the incredulity has been reduced to simple head-shaking — let’s get this out of the way: Andy Carroll is not worth £35 million right now. He’s 22 years old, he has only ever scored 34 goals at the senior level, and is carrying a thigh injury. He has one England cap. One. And he has already been in the papers several times for the wrong reasons.
That doesn’t make him a bad buy.
The long-and-short of it was that Liverpool’s situation was dire. Last year’s mediocre campaign became the millstone for this year’s disaster. The Reds are down 10 points from this time last year, a season that saw Liverpool plummet 23 points from their almost-title winning finish in 2009. (This is the point where you can hear the collective snorts from the crimson side of Manchester). It’s because they couldn’t score. For all intents and purposes, Liverpool had no strikers.
Over the last 10 seasons, Liverpool averaged about 62 goals a season in the Prem. In the early part of the decade, a peaking Michael Owen shouldered much of the load. When he started to get hurt, Liverpool’s goal totals slumped and so did their form. After he left for sunny Spain, other players managed to fill in the gaps, and Rafael Benitez’ stingy formations meant Liverpool were always contenders.
Then Fernando Torres arrived and the goals started to come again. In the 2008-09 EPL season, Liverpool scored 77 goals… their highest total since they were winning the League. (In fact, they came two goals away from doing it that season. If Liverpool had scored a goal in two of their drawn games, they would have tied United on points, but pipped them to the title on superior goal difference).
Torres brought the goals — and so did mighty midfielder Steven Gerrard. But the team began to rely too much on the pair. An infuriating tinkerman early on, Benitez eventually built his formation around Torres and Gerrard, neglecting the development of other forwards.
Both players wanted to play all the time: Premier League, Champions League, cup ties. The result was that Torres and Gerrard got hurt… a lot. Combine that with the departure of defensive keystones Xavi Alonso and Javier Mascherano, and the team fell into shambles.
Fast forward to this month. The team is trending to top out at 50 goals this season. Top that with an atrocious goals-against and they are looking at a paltry +3 goal difference. That would almost certainly rule them out of the lucrative Champions League again… and maybe even the Europa League.
So when the transfer window was closing, an unhappy Torres handed in his transfer request. He wanted to play in Europe. He wants to win titles (which he never did on Merseyside. Not one piece of silverware.). The team’s shiny new owners realized they had both an opportunity and a dilemma. Free-wheeling Chelski was willing to pay top dollar for the Spaniard… but that would have left the Reds without a paddle, in the popular parlance. If Torres goes, there is no one. The cupboard is bare.
Enter Newcastle United. The perfidious Mike Ashley had to have known what Liverpool were doing with Torres. He is simply desperate for cash so he pounced, jacking up Carroll’s price. The overlords of Anfield paid and made the young Geordie the most expensive British player ever.
He ain't pretty, he just looks that way...
The reality is it would have been foolish not to take him. Liverpool are replacing Torres with England’s best striker this season. Who has more goals? Not Wayne Rooney, the man who was considered to be among the best in the world. Not Peter Crouch or Jermaine Defoe or Emile Heskey. In fact, no England player has found the back of the net this season as much as Carroll — and he hasn’t played since Christmas.
Carroll is not a pretty goal scorer. He doesn’t have Rooney’s skill on the ball. But he’s tall like Crouch, big and strong like Heskey and heads the ball like Tim Cahill… only he doesn’t have to jump.
Instead of Joey Barton or Kevin Nolan to feed him the ball, he now has Steven Gerrard, Dirk Kuyt, Maxi Rodriguez (don’t laugh, he’s come along this season!) and Luis Suarez. That last one could be telling. There are big hopes that Suarez and Carroll could be the new Owen and Heskey (except a Heskey that actually scores).
Finally — and this is important — he is only 22-years-old. He will learn the game — and learn discipline — from Dalglish, one of the finest strikers to ever play the English game.
The club paid far, far too much for him. I admit that, even with my red-tinted glasses on. But Andy Carroll could end up being the finest money that Liverpool ever threw away.