I know that there is still good in Andy Carroll. I sense it. The move to Liverpool hasn’t driven it from him fully. Granted, he is now more sausage than man, glistening unhealthily, but somewhere underneath that pallid clamminess lurks the player that took the Premier League by storm two summers ago.
Last week, Carroll’s support was flagging. This week, it has almost vanished. His few remaining champions huddle together like sheep against a storm of criticism. That brutal goals to games ratio batters them again and again. Five in 36 in the League. Five! That’s £7.2m per goal! He’s rubbish. A great big galumphing lump of man-flesh, blundering from one setback to another, whinnying in displeasure, bringing crushing disappointment to all who flock to see him.
And yet, I still cling to a memory, gripping it with my mind’s fist, like the snatch of a half-remembered dream. His brace against Manchester City towards the end of last season, I know that I saw it happen. I’m sure I recall the way he shaped for his strike, angling his upper body and unleashing a photon torpedo past Joe Hart. The second, a powerful header, Carroll rising above his marker like some pony-tailed avenger. For all the suggestions that Liverpool must alter their style exclusively to the benefit of their cantering calamity, this was a time when Carroll clicked naturally with the Reds’ system.
And his time with Newcastle in the Premier League, I know that I didn’t imagine that. Eleven goals in 19 games before he, or his agent, made one demand too many of Mike Ashley and found a helicopter ready and waiting for them with ‘Melwood’ tapped into the Sat-Nav.
Carroll, and you may wish to brace yourself for this, was briefly as effective and deadly a frontman for the Magpies as Didier Drogba has been for so long at Chelsea. He was nerveless in front of goal, enjoyed full air superiority and boasted a short-range turn of pace that could carry him past, or through, any centre-back.
While £35m would only be a fair price if Carroll scored 25 goals a season for five seasons and offered backrubs to everyone in the city, Liverpool didn’t pay such a staggering sum of money because they got drunk and were trying to impress a girl. They paid it because his potential suggested that he might be worth it. They paid it because at one time, there was a reasonable argument that Carroll would be leading the line for his country for the next decade. Stop laughing!
Admittedly, it’s hard to believe any of that in the wake of his miserable return to St James’ Park (yeah, you heard) especially given the way that he left the pitch towards the end. Liverpool fans will put up with a lot from their players, but Carroll will need to build up far more credit with the Kop before he earns the right to tell Kenny Dalglish to eff off in front of everyone. In public relations terms, that little temper tantrum was tantamount to smearing bogies on the ‘This is Anfield’ sign.
But look again at the incident that caused the most consternation, that ludicrous dive over Tim Krul’s fingertips. Rewind. Look at the way he zeroes in on the ball, eyes rolling backwards in his head like a shark. Look at the way he grunts up through the gears, powering past the defenders into the box. It’s him. It’s the old Andy Carroll. He’s in there somewhere, deep down, struggling to get out. Believe.