Liverpool and West Ham United agreed on a £15 million transfer fee that would send striker Andy Carroll to the East London side on a permanent basis. So far, Carroll and West Ham have not been able to agree on personal terms. Understandably, Hammers fans are getting nervous. In tweets apparently since deleted, Chairman David Gold (@DavidGoldWHU) assured fans, denying that Carroll was getting cold feet, and fan blog westhamfans.org reported that he would sign the contract "on Monday or Tuesday" after returning from holiday in the North East. That's about as substantial as the news gets, which is fueling speculation. No news doesn't necessarily mean that sinister dealings are happening behind the scenes, but it would be naive to suggest that Andy is spending his days soaking up the sun and not thinking about his future. If there's a reason beyond logistics keeping him from putting pen to paper, it may be that he is considering a move back to Tyneside.
Toon fans need little reminding about Carroll's time with the club. Brought up in Newcastle's academy, where he created this amazing Bebo page as a 16 year-old, he broke out in a big way during the Championship season, scoring 19 goals en route to immediate promotion. The next year, he was handed the iconic #9 shirt and he also got himself into trouble. A lot. In November, there was an assault charge involving his ex-girlfriend, leading to a bail agreement that meant he had to live with captain Kevin Nolan (BBC News). That time was marred by a rumored "drug-fueled orgy" (Link goes to the Evening Standard, reporting on claims made by now-defunct News of the World) and a very real incident in which his car was set on fire in the driveway of Nolan's home (The Chronicle). Carroll was also banging in goals, something many doubted he would be able to do in the Premier League, and the press were falling in love with the lightning rod he had become. In one stunning piece of yellow journalism, The Daily Mirror reported an "Exclusive" based on a single eyewitness account that his thigh injury, which was keeping him out of game action at the time, was not sustained on the training ground, but in an incident involving a barstool in a casino. The word "meerkat" was used in this story. Seriously. (More links if you're interested: Our reaction plus a stunning photoshop by @ToonArmyMIA)
Still, he was performing on the pitch. On December 11, 2010, Newcastle played Liverpool at St James' Park in their first match following the unpopular sacking of manager Chris Hughton. Supporters came prepared to sing about the Fat Cockney Bastard for 90 minutes, and there were vague threats of a mass walkout. The fans never walked out, and while they sang lustily about Mike Ashley, by the end of the match they were so mesmerized by Andy Carroll they had no choice but to sing his praises instead. (Also, Roy Hodgson did this.) He was a force in the air that day, as he so often was. He set up Nolan and Joey Barton with headed balls, then in the final stages of the match, when no Liverpool defender stepped up to challenge him on the ball, he deposited a left-footed shot in the bottom right corner of the net from 30 yards.
On January 31, Liverpool purchased Carroll from Newcastle for the now-infamous sum of £35 million.
In the intervening period, the one-time Newcastle #9 has appeared 5 times against his former team, 3 as a Liverpool player and 2 as a Liverpool player wearing a West Ham United shirt. He has failed to score on all 5 of those occasions, once dramatically falling to the ground without being touched by Tim Krul, a dive so blatant even noted Toon adversary Martin Atkinson booked him for simulation. Whether it was true or not, the building narrative that Andy had problems between the ears that were affecting his play took off. Gradually, he ceased to be the focal point of Liverpool's offensive game plan, if he ever truly was. When Brendan Rodgers took over at the Kop in Summer 2012, he didn't mince words about his plans for Carroll, saying in August:
It is too early to say. I can only be straight with a player on where he stands. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to see Andy has been a cover player for us. He has been excellent in terms of his attitude and his acceptance of where he is at. But I’m not sure we are in a position to have £35m players as third-choice strikers or wingers who might be on £6m a year. I don’t think the club are in that position. The club needs repair financially.
After rejecting a deal that would have landed him in West Ham, Carroll went on loan to the same club in 2012-13, playing for former Toon boss Sam Allardyce and alongside friend and former roommate Kevin Nolan. Reviews on his season, especially from those within the club, were positive. He scored 7 goals in 23 matches and forced opposing defenses to deal with his size. Now, we approach 2 weeks since it was initially reported that Liverpool and West Ham had agreed a transfer fee. No "come and get me" plea has been issued from Carroll's camp to Newcastle, but it is widely assumed that he's waiting for them to make an offer (as mentioned earlier, West Ham are putting on a brave face, at least for now). It's understandable. Newcastle is his home, and it just so happens to be the place he thrived most as a footballer.
Could he recreate the magic at St James' Park? During his tenure there he benefited greatly from the laser-precise delivery of Joey Barton, who has burned his bridges here as elsewhere and is currently angling for a permanent move to Olympique de Marseille. The club currently has no player capable of filling that role, with one or two possible exceptions. The purchase of Carroll might require a subsequent complementary purchase. Would the price he would command preclude such a move?
On the pitch, I believe Carroll would be a positive purchase at the rumored price. Many in the fanbase believe Andy would be filling a "Peter Crouch at Stoke City" type role under Alan Pardew, but I find that viewpoint reductive at best. Carroll is not a classic forward destroyer, but he can take pressure off of Papiss Cisse and create chances for him with flick-ons. If nothing else, having a big body striker could create room for smaller players like Hatem Ben Arfa and Davide Santon, enabling them to be more effective with their nimble dribbling style.
We may find out this week that the speculation about Carroll dragging his feet to sign with West Ham is made of nothing. I suspect that if this drags on much longer, we'll start to see rumblings that Newcastle are interested after all.
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