Carroll at a crossroads as Liverpool's big man faces career-defining summer

Despite showing signs of improvement, the striker could be loaned out by new Reds boss Brendan Rodgers and both player and club must now make some important decisions
By George Ankers

Andy Carroll did not look like a player who wanted to leave Newcastle in the first place – and he must be wondering what might have been had Liverpool's £35 million bid for him been rejected in the North-East in January 2011.

His first 15 months at Anfield were excruciating for all concerned as he was turned into a national joke for reasons out of his control. The big man underperformed in the extreme but his every action was put into a £35m context. It would be tough for anyone, especially for a man who is still only 23.

So it was hard not to feel sorry for Carroll when, just as things finally appeared to be starting to go his way – a barnstorming cameo in a losing cause in the FA Cup final before an encouraging showing at Euro 2012 - the reception he received from new Reds manager Brendan Rodgers was, relatively speaking, very reserved.

“It’s something I would have to look at, I have to be honest,” the Northern Irishman told reporters when asked if he might loan out the target man, who appears unsuited for the style of football that he encouraged at Swansea City.

Carroll's trials and tribulations
0.19 Goals per game for Liverpool in 2011-12 (9 in 47), behind Maxi Rodriguez (0.29) and Craig Bellamy (0.24)
1 He is Liverpool's most expensive signing of all time
3 Goals in the Reds' final seven matches of 2011-12 - with one more to come for England against Sweden
15 Andy Carroll's £35 million price tag makes him the joint-15th most expensive player ever, equal with David Villa and Cesc Fabregas
“[Loaning players out] gets them game experience, and they come back a better player, a more confident one. Certainly more so than if they’ve been sitting on the bench for the majority of the season,” he continued, appearing to suggest that the England man might have to settle for a substitute role if he stays.

Moving Carroll on, be it on a temporary or permanent basis, would be a big move for both player and boss, and the decision on whether he stays or goes will have a significant impact either way on the forward’s career.

On the face of it, discounting the concept of a transfer fee, Carroll seems an awkward fit into the Rodgers revolution. His game, unsurprisingly for his build, is based on being the man on the end of the thrusting long pass, which his sumptuous header for England against Sweden last month encapsulated. There are unlikely to be so many of these long passes heading in his direction at Anfield in 2012-13 (and not just because Stewart Downing would be the man responsible for aiming them).

Rodgers’ Swansea City played almost exclusively with the ball on the ground, building up progressively until it reached the feet of Danny Graham. Graham is a strong forward who can head the ball as well, though not quite as well as Carroll, but he is most comfortable with it at his feet. The clumsy footwork of the Liverpool man, best typified when he crumpled into a heap in the Newcastle penalty area to howls of laughter in April, is well noted at Anfield and beyond. It is therefore not surprising that Rodgers is looking to be reunited with former Swans charge Fabio Borini.

That is not to say that Liverpool and Rodgers cannot find use for a target man – every team needs a plan B and the Ulsterman is an adaptable coach (in Wales, he built on the work already done by his predecessor, Roberto Martinez, and will surely take elements of what he finds already at Anfield rather than a complete blank slate). But last term’s evidence and Rodgers’ willingness to discuss a loan suggest that Carroll is far from his ideal plan A.

On the face of it, Carroll seems an awkward fit into the Rodgers revolution. There are unlikely to be so many long passes heading in his direction at Anfield in 2012-13

For Liverpool, though, the issue is pride. Rodgers himself did not buy Carroll and should not feel guilty for deciding on how he wishes to use him without taking the price into account, but his bosses are unlikely to discount it.

Loaning or selling the £35m man 18 months on would be a humiliation for the Reds. It would seem to confirm to those outside that they made a huge mistake in splurging the Fernando Torres money so quickly and recklessly and, frankly, it would look panicky, as if they had partly hired Rodgers because it gave a tactical excuse to flog Carroll.

There would also be a different kind of pride at stake: the more familial pride of cutting loose a footballer with clear and undoubted ability, both potential and current, whom they had massively shafted with their scrutiny-prompting transfer swoop.

West Ham show interest in Carroll
If last season's unsavoury sagas taught us anything, it is that Liverpool protect their own. Pushing Carroll out of the door, when the opinion from fans seems strongly in favour of him staying, would seem a change of tack.

So, just as with the club, there would be pros and cons either way for the man himself.

Now that he is there, the 23-year-old may feel that he has to stay and prove himself at Anfield before he could ever consider going elsewhere. The signs of improvement are there and the lack of a week-in, week-out starting role might actually be beneficial in terms of relieving the burden.

Having to better himself by adapting to different tactical and technical requirements should not be seen as a minus, either, rather an opportunity to develop as a professional. And England are hardly so blessed with forwards that not starting every match would be an obstacle to continued international opportunities.

But, of course, if he stays and fails to adapt to Rodgers’ plans, one can only imagine how much more unbearable the ridicule might become. You would not blame him for wanting to escape.

A move would represent the chance to start again, though surely it would require a ‘downgrade’. The two clubs to so far express any interest – Newcastle and West Ham – are ostensibly smaller clubs than Liverpool, which could be an ego-bruise for Carroll.

A return to Tyneside would surely be the more appealing of the two but, wherever he might go, the truth of the English media is that, now that the scrutiny has started, it will not stop glaring at him for as long as he remains in the Premier League spotlight – and a shock move abroad to avoid it seems very unlikely.

Either way, whether all concerned cut their losses and end it now or he remains to see the job through, Carroll’s time at Liverpool is likely to be the defining phase of his career.

One cannot help but feel that the personal triumph of putting his demons definitively to rest and making a lasting success of himself at Anfield would be the most satisfying thing for which to aim, both professionally and personally. It is not out of his reach.

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