Just two months ago yesterday, News of the World reported that Andy Carroll and Kevin Nolan (with whom he was living at the time) had been involved in a "drug-fuelled orgy" at Nolan's home. Of course, The Sun was more than willing to join in on the fun. Today, Jeremy Armstrong of MirrorFootball claimed that Carroll's thigh injury that has kept him out of recent matches was actually the result of binge drinking and not football-related. Let's say for the sake of argument that this story is true, right down to the anecdote about a meerkat. (A meerkat? Really?!) Armstrong relies on one witness: a drunken gambler hanging out in a casino bar. If the story was corroborated, Armstrong doesn't indicate so. Is this what qualifies as a source nowadays? On top of that, the headline is completely misleading. Skimming only through the day's headlines, as I often do when those headlines don't involve Newcastle, one would come to the conclusion that Carroll had himself ingested 30 Jagerbombs in 6 hours before injuring himself. Reading the story - and again, consider the source - He bought 30 shots for 15 people, which is sort of what rich people do. Even if you're willing to believe that Carroll wasn't injured during the Tottenham game, when Michael Dawson spent the entire climbing his back to get to crosses, you have to admit that this is a pretty flimsy story.
So why print it? The more accurate question may actually be: Why are people - journalists in particular - so eager to believe stories that are frankly unbelievable? The simple answer is probably that, as I stated above, Andy Carroll has developed quite a little reputation for himself. If you're predisposed to dislike Carroll and you squint real hard, you might find yourself nodding your head in agreement with Jeremy Armstrong. Of course he fell off a barstool! That's just the kind of guy he is.
I think there's something deeper in it, and that's the culture of following sports in today's 24 hour news cycle. We love our cult heroes, and we hate when the mask is removed and they're proven fallible. Take the case of Wayne Rooney, for instance. He's no stranger to controversy. In 2006, when he was about Carroll's age, News of the World and The Sun (sound familiar?) reported that Rooney had assaulted his then-fiancee in a nightclub. He subsequently won a settlement against the papers, (Chris Tryhorn, The Guardian) so the public was free to fall in love with him. And boy, did they, with good reason. I don't need to tell you that Rooney is a world-class player. He's a two-time PFA Footballer of the Year, and his popularity seemed to hit its zenith this last summer right before the World Cup:
The parents who named their kids Wayne before his sub-par World Cup performance were even more upset this September when more reputable sources began reporting of his affair with a prostitute. (Matthew Moore, The Telegraph)
So what does Rooney's path have to do with Carroll's? Well, for one thing, Carroll's place on England's national team has been a topic of great discussion the last few months. Fabio Capello has visions of pairing the two players together up front the next time England plays, so the comparison is very natural. (The Guardian) Here's my theory: Given Rooney's fall from grace, both on and off the field (I should mention that I don't believe myself that his play in the World Cup represents his ability as a player, but we're talking perceptions here), Carroll is being set up as an anti-hero. It's the principle of "low expectations, few disappointments." I'm not saying there is a vast conspiracy or that Carroll is above reproach. Andy Carroll is not a saint. He has been arrested for assault at least three times and has had several dust-ups with his teammates. Most people that follow football even casually are aware of his reputation - see Dan Silver of MirrorFootball's joke at Number 10 on this list. I'm not trying to pretend otherwise. I believe that, consciously or unconsciously, the tabloid media is making Carroll pay for the sins of Wayne Rooney and other heroes who have disappointed the masses when their private lives have been made public - and that's a shame.