There was a time when Andy Carroll was unplayable, and coveted. Liverpool were not the only side interested when the six foot four inch forward was at the height of his powers, in November 2010.
Tottenham and Chelsea were also regular watchers of the then Newcastle striker. Harry Redknapp for once went public on his thoughts regarding another team's player, and admitted he was interested in taking Carroll to White Hart Lane but could not afford the prices being mentioned. Spurs left the bidding once it ticked, to the merriment of Mike Ashley, past £22 million. That it kept going was, however, a surprise, but as the desire of Roman Abramovich to land Fernando Torres rose, so did Ashley's unwillingness to sell. At £35 million, Ashley almost flew the helicopter himself from Newcastle's training ground to Merseyside.
Or at least that is how the revisionist tell that final day of the transfer window in January 2011. Newcastle, with no replacement and a furious set of supporters (who could well remember how devastating an impact Carroll was having in his first real, proper season of Premier League football) dithered. Kenny Dalglish pushed and landed his man. It has largely been downhill since (save for a great strike against Manchester City here, a superb header at Blackburn there, or finding an international highlight for England in a European Championship largely shawn of such moments).
All this time later, and those of us who watched Carroll grow into the Championship, the Newcastle number nine shirt and then into the Premier League, cannot help but feel frustrated.
There is a player inside Carroll, still, it just needs to come out. Aside the obvious strength he has in the air, there is a good left foot, a bit of pace and a desire, according to those who worked with him at Newcastle, to learn his craft.
There were definite signs of that player tonight, which will probably have offered more relief to Roy Hodgson than Sam Allardyce, who has to find a lot of money to make the loan move from Liverpool permanent. It was clear from the 36th second that Carroll was up for it, keeping a wayward right wing cross in, forcing it up the line to a West Ham team-mate; working hard and doing well.
From there came confidence. Through a crowd of people, in the fifth minute, he found the space to shoot narrowly wide of David De Gea's post. By the 15 minute mark he had created West Ham's opening goal, rising at the far post with too much force for Patrice Evra, to aim his headed pass towards Ricardo Vaz Te, who guided his own header into the Manchester United goal.
Rio Ferdinand's evening was uncomfortable. Nemanja Vidic looked to have caught Carroll with a finger in the eye. Wayne Rooney stood on his foot deliberately on the stroke of half-time
Carroll was still annoyed by the incident when the left wing corner was swung over. Collins took care of Rooney, knocking him out of the way. That meant De Gea was faced with a rampaging Geordie full of fury gunning for him. He must have a felt like a Northumbria Police horse.
Carroll duly wiped out Evra and the Manchester United goalkeeper in one battering movement such was the force of his run. Sir Alex Ferguson was furious, De Gea needed treatment. Carroll walked away laughing with Rooney. Five minutes into the second half he was booked for a by comparison innocuous clash with De Gea by a referee who may have watched a replay of the first flooring during half-time.
It was again not enough to put Carroll off his stride. Soon after he smashed a volley from 30 yards that was as worrying to De Gea as the physical mauling he faced in the first half. But then that, on his day, is what Carroll can bring to a team.
Where he will play next season remains intriguing. His wages remain a problem; too high for his parent club, his former club and his current club. Solve that £80,000-a-week problem, and the similarly daunting problems of his transfer fee, and somebody may get their hands on a player.
- More about:
- Blackburn Rovers
- Manchester United
- Newcastle United
- Northumbria Police
- Patrice Evra
- Premier League
- Sam Allardyce
- Tottenham Hotspur
- Wayne Rooney
- West Ham United