It seems that Brendan Rodgers is not a man to waste time. In his first press conference since pre-season training began at Melwood, the new Liverpool boss placed a bundle of logs and kindling under Andy Carroll’s bottom, doused it in petrol and set it ablaze. Let no-one be in any doubt, the misfiring £35million centaur is now an endangered species.
Rodgers told reporters that he wanted to ‘assess’ Carroll and that, like any other player, he might have, “all the attributes, but not the mentality.” Hmmm. It almost sounds like Rodgers may have assessed his man already.
He went on to say that he had spoken to Carroll on his holidays and that his striker knew exactly where he stood. He may be right, though I suspect that if Carroll is stood anywhere right now, it’s in the middle of a pile of empty WKD bottles and discarded womens’ underwear. And herein lies the problem.
Rodgers is, if you’ll forgive the Sorkinism, living the first line of his obituary right now. If he succeeds here, if he returns this fallen giant to the top of English football, he’ll be a hero. On the other hand, if he fails, if his plan to introduce a culture of tiki-taka to Jay Spearing and Stewart Downing ends in tears, he may not ever get a chance at this level again. The sofas in TV studios across the nation are filled with managers who had one good season in the Premier League before it all went horribly wrong and their reputation was destroyed.
Remember when Phil Brown was tipped as a potential England manager? Remember when Aidy Boothroyd was a bright young thing? Rodgers cannot afford to stake his career on a loose cannon, particularly if that loose cannon is full of pork scratchings.
But Carroll, and I may have bored you with this before, could be perfect for Liverpool, even as the spearhead of Rodgers’ proposed 4-3-3 formation. At the risk of wandering into ‘good touch for a big man’ territory, he is far more comfortable with the ball at his feet than people think and he’s surprisingly swift over a short distance.
The perception is that Rodgers will want a team of tiny, fleet-footed sprites in red shirts, but this is a man who recruited Danny Graham, clearly more mallet than dagger, and happily used him at the top of his enterprising Swansea side. It is also worth recalling that the Swans often found themselves stuck on the edge of the final third, playing interminable short passes because they couldn’t find a way through. Giant Geordie rock trolls like Carroll can usually find a way through anything simply by running into it at high speed and hoping it falls over.
Offloading Carroll now, after a barnstorming end to the season and a decent showing in Eastern Europe, would be unwise. You don’t sit through months of mediocrity only to cash out at the first sign of improvement. Even if Liverpool cut their losses now, it would still go down as humiliating failure in the transfer market. Why not wait another season? Why not see if a new manager with a hardline approach - and a proven track record in improving young talent - can cultivate the potential into something more permanent?
Ultimately, it’s all down to Carroll now. For huge swathes of last season, he looked revoltingly out of shape, sweating like unwrapped cheddar in direct sunlight, even in pre-match warm-ups. He can be anything he wants to be. Well, within reason. I wouldn’t want him flying passenger jets, for example, but you know what I mean. He can be the glorious figurehead to a new era of glory on Merseyside, all hair and goals, or he can take his first step on a sad, downwards journey that will take in whichever Midlands team is highest in the league at the time, a loan spell at a recently relegated Premier League side of means, Celtic and the Turkish League.
Either way, it doesn’t look like Rodgers will wait long to make his mind up.