Liverpool: Andy Carroll's England Call-Up Isn't Only Justified, It's Necessary
As expected Roy Hodgson hasn’t rocked the boat with his selection of players for the 2012 European Championships. It was a selection befitting someone who is effectively a caretaker manager, taking the reigns until the FA can financially justify bringing someone in with the requisite skills to reshape the squad and take it into a new era.
There were few surprises and an absolute steadfast adherence to the England managerial conventional wisdom of refusing to pick players on form. It’s a circular logic that satisfyingly gives managers a series of preplanned getout clauses.
“Why didn’t you pick player X based who has been in lethal form” a grubby sports writer will ask, despite having already made the decision to file copy that claims the “snub” will signal the end of X’s days in an England shirt.
“Well, he’s unproven at international level and for these tournaments you have to go with experience, which is invaluable” the manager replies.
The press has taken to questioning the inclusion of Andy Carroll, as if there was some way that the striker wouldn’t figure in the squad
How the players get the experience… Well, it seems something of a mystery and one that players like Grant Holt, the second highest English scorer behind Wayne Rooney, and Leon Britton, a player who for the first half of the season had a higher pass completion rate than Xavi, will spend the summer pondering.
In the absence of any real brave picks – John Ruddy may as well get married, take an extended honeymoon followed by a cruise for all the minutes of football he will play in the competition. Oxlade-Chamberlain has been groomed for England in the same way as all “next big things” who don’t get games for their clubs are – the press has taken to questioning the inclusion of Liverpool's Andy Carroll, as if there was some way that the striker wouldn’t figure in the squad.
It’s easy to kick a man when he’s down and Carroll has spent a long period of time on the floor both figuratively and literally. The £35 million price tag was, at first, a weight on his shoulders, that became a millstone round his neck, that was subsequently attached to a noose. As he was fighting for air his manager, the now departed Kenny Dalglish, was content to throw him overboard, showing that it’s not just Somalian pirates that are keeping the art of keelhauling alive and well.
It’s easy to kick a man when he’s down and Carroll has spent a long period of time on the floor both figuratively and literally.
Yet, more than just mocking the ridiculous price for a relatively unproven talent, the press has ran wild with inaccuracies from the moment it was agreed he would sign for Newcastle, exploiting the naivety of a working class lad who still doesn’t get that the journalists who clamour for his attention are not his friends.
To be clear, He did not “betray” Newcastle. There was no way the board were going to turn down that sort of money for any player and once that decision is made what does the player do? He tried desperately to make it look like he had been pushed, so much so that he resorted to lying about it in the local rag, but ultimately it could never be called a bad deal for any party. In a single swoop one transfer had effectively eradicated the financial difficulty that relegation had brought and gave the player an opportunity to play on a much bigger stage regardless of any rhetoric relating to league placements.
Of course we all know the rest. He barely scored all season, looked a shadow of the player he was in Black and White. The press said that Dalglish had been duped and ran stories about Carroll’s lifestyle, saying he was unfit because he was a drunk. Dalglish blamed the luck, seemingly oblivious to the fact that hitting the woodwork is still missing the target or that there’s no such thing as luck anyway. There are more sober and obvious explanations for the poor form for those who wish to look further than what sells papers.
At Newcastle he was the rightful heir to Shearer’s crown. A throwback to the days when strikers had to be strong, as capable of working a centreback into submission as they were of putting the ball into the net, the entire system of play at Newcastle revolved around him. Put crosses into the big man, get ahead of the play when he’s holding up the ball, drag defenders away from him if he comes deep to give him space for a long shot… Tactically it was about playing to the teams strengths and Newcastle’s strengths at that time were Carroll’s. Everyone else’s industry was the set-up for his end product, which he duly delivered with a prolific strike rate.
At Newcastle he was the rightful heir to Shearer’s crown. A throwback to the days when strikers had to be strong, as capable of working a centreback into submission as they were of putting the ball into the net
At Liverpool things couldn’t have been more different. Dalglish, himself a throwback of a very different sort, still believed the game was as simple as having a “little and large” strike pairing, traditional wingers, combative anchromen… It isn’t and the system faltered. How can anyone be overly critical of a striker who plays in the same midfield as Downing, a one dimensional winger with not a single assist to his name all season (alarmingly also selected for England but bizarrely spared any ire), the likes of Charlie Adam and Jordan Henderson, vastly over-priced and over-rated, incapable of delivering the sort of range of passes to feed strikers?
Suarez too has suffered in terms of goal scoring and this is a player who is gifted with tricky feet and the pace and guile to get past players. Carroll, whose game was all about delivery and utilising his strength over swiftness, was simply never going to succeed unless he got the service. All too often he has had to be the player trying to create for others and it simply hasn’t worked. His failure is simply an outlet of the failure by Liverpool to play creative and incisive football.
It might feel like too much of an excuse on his behalf, an apologist view. As a Newcastle fan I have no reason to leap to his defence but the reaction to his inclusion in the England squad is baffling and it doesn’t take someone of a higher intellect than the average sports hack to realise it all comes down to the price tag once again. If this wasn’t the case would we not see similar scorn poured on Kevin Davies week in and week out, as opposed to those constantly lauding him as a model professional even though he’d rather drink a cup of tea than do a half time warm-up with his team?
His failure is simply an outlet of the failure by Liverpool to play creative and incisive football.
Those quick to say it’s a disgrace he’s included, that he should have been the makeweight for a surprise call-up, are overlooking several obvious points, the first of course being that England have no other player like him right now. Target men who can hold the ball up for a creative midfield are worth their weight in gold, at international level especially where the standard of defending is so high. Those claiming Crouch is an alternative ignore the fact that the Stoke striker is the tallest man in football history to not be able to head a ball, rather relying on his gangly legs to try and bring down balls he should be flicking on with his head.
The fact that Welbeck, another talent from the Manchester United production line that looks to be another of its disappointments rather than achievements, is in there is a far greater surprise. 12 goals in all competitions might well be more than Carroll has put away but that return after 39 appearances comes in a team that was scoring for fun and challenging for the title, as opposed to desperately trying to scrape into the Europa League spots as Liverpool have been this season.
What of Defoe, a player who hasn’t started for most of the season? On paper his strike rate is good enough, 17 in 38, but he scores in fits and starts and you can never be sure what you’re going to get on any given day. Will it be the player who clinically bangs in five goals and scores screamers from distance, or will it be the player whose despairing lunges all fail to hit the target? As a player he is worthy of inclusion but he is, rightfully, not without his detractors.
In terms of who is missing… Well, the point is that right now there isn’t a great deal going. If England is going to stick to the same old “you have to play for a big club” mentality when it comes to the glamour positions, then there’s thin pickings. Chelsea fans might try and talk up Sturridge but it’s more wishful thinking on their part than anything else. His wastefulness in front of goal was certainly a factor in their failure to win more matches earlier in the season under the ill-fated Villa-Boas era.
In terms of who is missing… Well, the point is that right now there isn’t a great deal going.
Of course all of these arguments are statistically based and they only tell part of the story. A lot of the time they obfuscate the truth, the circumstances being lost in the passage of time while the numbers remain eternal to the glee of statisticians and pub bores alike. Discount the numbers, the team he has played in and the season he has endured and think about what we honestly know about Andy Carroll – he has all the tools to do a job in a much better side and in the absence of others deserving a shot, for me he represents at worst the best of a bad bunch.
Sometimes to be selected you don’t have to be the one stepping forward, simply the one who doesn’t take a well placed step back. In the absence of any true top quality strike partners for Wayne Rooney, Carroll represents the best fit for a team that will need to rely on its big names to have any chance of victory.
In this sense England might be the perfect haven for Carroll. He may have the price tag but without the name, the reputation, the number of caps creaking – much like the knees of the players who have earned them – towards the centurion club, he’s unlikely to figure much in the medias seasonal attempts to derail the road to success. Not only can he look forward to some peace but he can also look forward to featuring in a team that can actually pass the ball and make the most of his ability.
Roy Hodgson knows a thing or two about what it’s like to go to Liverpool and get kicked around for trying hard but ultimately failing. This unspoken sympatico will likely see Carroll given a chance to show people back home that he can still deliver in his own fashion. Expect him then to find footballing redemption in a white shirt much sooner than he finds it in red.
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