One year ago today Andy Carroll was a Championship striker with four league goals for the season, scored against Blackpool, Plymouth, Doncaster and Peterborough. He wakes up this morning as the eighth most expensive footballer of all time, anywhere in the world.
The £35m transfer of a 22-year-old striker with only 11 Premier League goals and half a season's experience as a first-choice player in the top flight is one of the most extraordinary stories of English football. But yesterday was one of those extraordinary days.
It included Newcastle United turning down a huge offer for Carroll that they would never have dared reject on any other day than this. A day in which the feverish desire of Liverpool to spend most of the £50m they received for Fernando Torres turned a raw kid from Gateshead into a more expensive player than Spain's World Cup-winner David Villa.
It takes some confidence for Liverpool – with owners who have been in charge only since October, a new director of football and a caretaker manager – to spend £35m on a player whose only proven track record thus far is for a worryingly volatile private life. That he is currently injured and presumably unable to complete a medical looks like the least of their worries.
The acquisition of Carroll would never have cost as much in different circumstances. But the departure of Torres and the scarcity of a credible replacement to be had within 24 hours meant that Liverpool were forced to part with a transfer fee that changes the nature of Carroll's career for ever.
The transfer fee is not Carroll's fault. The reasons that it was inflated beyond all realistic terms were the result of Roman Abramovich's latest obsession to bring Torres to Chelsea. Unfortunately, it becomes Carroll's problem.
In context, and if Carroll lives up to his potential, £35m will not look so ludicrous. He is that most rare of commodities: a young English striker who has already broken into the national side with the potential to be a serious player. There are so few of his type around now that as soon as he showed a glimmer of potential to be a Premier League player this season, his value started soaring
There was a time in English football, in the mid to late 1990s, when Carroll's hero Alan Shearer was playing, when the country had a surfeit of great strikers. From Shearer to Robbie Fowler, Michael Owen, Andy Cole, Teddy Sheringham, Ian Wright and Les Ferdinand, an English striker could be a 20-goal-a-season man and still not get in the England squad.
Not any longer. Carroll's emergence this year has been that of an intriguing prospect for the future. With a style that is an awkward configuration of knees and elbows, he has at times looked like a striker of real talent. At other times he has looked simply like a promising player making his first steps to being a good one. But never has he looked like a £35m footballer.
The problem now for Carroll, whose popularity on Tyneside was a bulwark against his worst excesses, is that he will inevitably be judged on different terms. He is no longer a kid with potential, nor is he one for the future. He is a £35m footballer who is being asked to fill the boots of one of the most celebrated strikers in the world.
He has demonstrated enough of the tough, nothing-fazes-me attitude that is a feature of his generation of football prodigies – Wayne Rooney, Jack Wilshere, Adam Johnson – but he is going to need more than that to survive at Liverpool. Carroll is good, no doubt about that. But his talent is not as indisputable as Rooney's was at that age and yet his fee and the scrutiny it will bring will be no less intense.
Given his development thus far it was clear that at some point over the next few years, a club would have paid big money for Carroll. That it turned out to be yesterday and that it was £35m was one of those quirks of modern football. No player of great promise these days is allowed to stay at his modest hometown club for a few years and develop gently. They are seized as soon as possible, usually from the academy, and thrust into the limelight often long before they are ready.
Carroll's private life suggests that he still has many issues to resolve. There was a conviction for common assault in October. He was arrested and bailed for the assault of his former girlfriend – the charges were later dropped. That is not to say that Carroll will not get his house in order and thrive at Liverpool. But there is no point pretending that he is not still a major risk.
Sadly, there is no longer any time for a player to develop quietly in a game in such a rush. One minute they are scoring against Plymouth, the next they are more expensive than two Alan Shearers. It makes for a lot of excitement but it does not necessarily make it right.Reuse content