The Carroll Conundrum: Headers and Heartache
Author: Emily Pulham. Published: 9 January 2019 at 7:10pm
Written by : Joe Levy @levylife
Andy Carroll’s recent performances have come with all the grace and guile of an anthropomorphic Smeg fridge. He is a figure of split faiths in the fan base; he is either derided, adored and even in some cases – pitied. His latest musings in the press about wanting to extended his stay in east London have been met a flurry of question marks. In the five years since joining permanently, Carroll has only made 97 Premier League appearances. This is a shocking return, like going to buy a lion and being given a rabbit in a wig. Carroll’s injury record is surely the most damning marker that it is time to move on, but – perhaps not. After all, it is the same board that elected to give crutches loyalty card holder Jack Wilshere a three year contract on excessive wages. A couple of headers throughout the rest of the season and there is every chance a renewal could be on the table.
Jokes aside, keeping fit is a big worry. Baring in mind it took a whole calendar year for Carroll to start a Premier League game again after injury, the continuous injuries have limited his physical capabilities. His trademark pressing runs on opposition goalkeepers are no longer seen, and his overall lack of movement is only exacerbated more by the quick feet of Anderson, Arnautovic and Antonio. Pellegrini recently said that Carroll is only capable of 45 minutes a game, giving you literally half a functioning footballer. It was even more bemusing that Carroll was Arnautovic’s early replacement against Birmingham, his stamina levels clearly shot halfway through the second half.
Some may point to the fact that he is an effective plan B, the go-to man when all else has failed. This is not a particularly attractive proposition, given that the desire when Carroll is on the pitch to lump the ball up to him, like a moth to light, completely negates Pellegrini’s tactical nous. Carroll is not an utterly dependable finisher either; he missed two glaring chances before his last minute header against Birmingham – and even his ability to win aerial challenges seems to have diminished greatly. The idea that a fit Carroll was a game changer could be true earlier in his career, but at 30 years of age, this is more hope than fact. The emotional celebration last Saturday showed the frustration flowing out of him – it had been nine months since his last goal and his performance had been woeful until that point, the goal somewhat glossing over a real lack of Premier League quality.
Carroll also needs to recognise his lack of compatibility with Pellegrini’s system. Arnautovic provides the physicality of Carroll, whilst also offering pace, trickery and a killer instinct. The intelligence of the Austrian’s link up play is far beyond that of Carroll’s, along with players such as Anderson and Lanzini who can become greater integrated into the build up, rather than swinging balls in to a target with minimal return. Carroll has had his fair share of clutch moments, even with his troubles. The two goals against West Brom last season and a volley against Stoke rescued vital points in a dismal period for the club. His performances during 2015/16 against Arsenal and Chelsea were also quality, but nearly half of his goals that season came in those two games. His presence has been fleeting throughout his time at the club, never able to stay fit for long enough to demonstrate his quality.
Thinking in terms of finance and progression, a departure in the summer would be best for both club and player. Carroll’s wages are in the top bracket of the playing staff and the return on the pitch is not equivalent. His wages could be used to bring in two or three players in the ilk of Balbuena – relative unknowns who can transition well into English football. Husillos and Pellegrini have the connections and knowledge to find these gems, more equally spreading an already crushing wage bill. Even finding a striker who could command similar wages would be a better option. Carroll and Lucas Perez each earn upwards of £80,000 each a week, which leaves an obscene amount of cash for potential signings come the summer.
In terms of progress, a club who are supposedly challenging for Europe should not be dependent on an injury-prone, 30 year old who doesn’t fit into the manager’s tactical approach. His brief flashes of brilliance can not compensate for his lack fitness, nor his steadily declining capabilities which made him such a previous danger. The emergence of young Xande Silva, whilst being the polar opposite of Carroll, is a refreshing change in the style of forward we are beginning to see at the club. A few fans have mentioned a pay-as-you-play deal for Carroll, but this only prolongs the inevitable departure. To command a transfer fee, or even the proposed Shelvey swap, in January would be tough going. Clubs know of his injury struggles and won’t pay an inflated fee for someone they can take a gamble on in six months time for nothing.
Carroll is obviously popular with his team mates and with the fans. He has finally settled after his difficulties as a youngster, but sentimentality cannot dictate Carroll’s future. Only his performances on the pitch can do so. Yet, on the wrong side of 30 and with the club aiming to reach new heights of achievement and playing style, Carroll’s departure is written on the wall.