When Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Andy Carroll came face to face at Euro 2012, their ponytails swishing majestically in the Donetsk sunshine, it looked like a meeting between two Dutch Record Company Executives from the 1980s. It only needed shoulder-pads in their shirts to complete the picture. But it’s perhaps not just the ponytail that marks Carroll out as yesterday’s man.
There’s a game in which everyone has to make up an imaginary opening line for an existing novel. They then get tossed in a hat, along with the real opening line, and whoever’s line sounds the most plausible to the others wins. So if, for example, I’d written “’I wonder if I need to take the batteries out of this before I wash it’, mused Karen” as a possible opening line for Fifty Shades of Grey, I might be in with a chance... from what I’ve heard.
This is pretty much the technique behind a lot of modern print journalism; you think of a situation that sounds faintly plausible – that could conceivably happen – then write it up as something that’s pretty much nailed on.
Let’s try it now... Okay, Liverpool F.C. has a new boss. He got Swansea promoted playing attractive, on-the-deck football. He’s inherited Andy Carroll – a big number nine who’s good on the end of a long ball. This clearly can’t be a good fit (‘cause football managers can only play one way) so Carroll will almost certainly be sold at a humiliating knock down price, or loaned out to... um, let’s see... ooh, I know! Carroll’s mate Kevin Nolan’s at West Ham. Kev and Andy are such good mates that a judge ordered them to live together as father and step-son. And West Ham are a team managed by a bloke who loves 4-5-1 so much he had it tattooed across his wife’s back.Put it all together... “Andy Carroll in shock loan move to West Ham” Genius! Who says journalism’s hard?
Little Tommy Tucker shows some early promise, so he’s snapped up by a big club, and then, because he’s not as good as the bloke they got from A.C. Milan, he doesn’t get picked.
I can’t see it happening. But it might. And if it does and Liverpool decide to cut their losses, will this be yet another example of a career unravelling for a promising young English player? When Liverpool paid £35m for The New Alan Shearer™, it seemed that the Premiership and the national side might be about to hail a new star. But just eighteen months later, according to the press at least, Carroll faces an uncertain future.
Often, with our home-grown starlets, it’s the same old story. Little Tommy Tucker shows some early promise, so he’s snapped up by a big club, and then, because he’s not as good as the bloke they got from A.C. Milan, he doesn’t get picked. High profile moves to super-rich Chelsea, for example, put the brakes on Scott Parker, Joe Cole and Steve Sidwell’s careers. I know this observation has been made time and time again and has often been invoked as a reason for the lack of skill and flair among English-born players but here’s a thought...
When James Milner came to our attention at Leeds, he looked great, scoring his first Premiership goal at a record-breaking sixteen, earning a high profile move to Newcastle, then two more multi-million pound switches to Villa and Man City. But watching Milner go round the keeper, early on in England’s Euro 2012 opener against France, only to dab the ball out tamely for an opposition goal kick and run back to take up his position, I found myself wondering if he’s actually improved one iota since his Leeds days... and I’d say the same for Downing, Barry and any number of our home-grown talents. In some cases, I think they may have gone backwards.
Wayne Bridge looks like he may end his career having been loaned out more times than “American Pie 2.”
The moment a young English player manages to trap a ball and complete a pass without breaking a hip or sitting on the pitch crying, he acquires a multi-million pound price tag and, it would appear, immunity from any more coaching or development. Contrast this with, say, Cristiano Ronaldo, who arrived up at Man. U with his silly hair and his step-overs; terrific already but very much a work in progress. He improved season on season to the point where he’s now one of the best in the world. Conversely, it’s possible that Andy Carroll’s peak may have come and gone two years ago when his 19 goals helped Newcastle back into the top flight.
If Brendan Rodgers doesn’t see enough in Andy Carroll, then the weight of expectation placed on him by a £35m price tag certainly won’t have helped and maybe a loan is the answer. Wayne Bridge looks like he may end his career having been loaned out more times than “American Pie 2.” We had him at West Ham and once he’d remembered the rules he was pretty good for us.
Loan deals seem now to be a fixture in the game. But they’re a tricky proposition. Financially, they make sense for the clubs but do we really want a game populated by guns-for-hire with no loyalty toward a club that, crucially, has no loyalty to them? They’re good in that players get to play in more than just reserve games - but equally, the idea that, if a player can’t cut it at your club, instead of improving the player, you send him out to play some place where the football’s a bit easier seems like an admission of defeat. Like increasing A-levels pass rates by making them less hard or letting surgeons practice on people who are already dead.
That said, I’m sure there’ll be a welcome for him in East London if Brendan Rodgers does decide to let Andy go and get a bit of practice in the little league. Even though he looks like an extra from Miami Vice.
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