When Liverpool broke the British transfer record by paying £35 million for Andy Carroll a little over three years ago, eyebrows were raised, but it was widely noted that the Reds were signing a player with huge potential.
Carroll, who had just turned 22 years old, had scored 11 goals in the first half of the season for Newcastle and hugely impressed. His physical stature caused teams problems, but he was equally adept with the ball at his feet as he was aerially. Liverpool, it seemed, were signing a player to dovetail with fellow new signing Luis Suarez—the two of them would be the new Kevin Keegan and John Toshack, replacing the £50 million departure of Fernando Torres.
Of course, that's not how things played out at Anfield, and merely three years later Suarez is regarded as one of the best footballers in the world, while Carroll is struggling for a place in England's World Cup squad after another injury-hit campaign at West Ham.
So, where did it all go wrong for Carroll at Anfield?
Incredibly, Carroll scored fewer league goals in the whole of his Liverpool career than he had in the first six months of his Premier League career at Newcastle. In 58 total appearances, the Gateshead-born forward scored 11 goals for the Merseysiders.
Carroll arrived at Liverpool carrying an injury, having to wait until March to make his debut as a sub against Manchester United. Having signed on January deadline day, his first goal wasn't until April, in a 3-0 win over Manchester City. In total he made just nine appearances in his debut half-season at Liverpool.
Knee injuries then disrupted his first full season at the club, although he did make 47 appearances in total—including twice at Wembley when he scored in both the FA Cup semi-final and final against Everton and Chelsea respectively.
When Kenny Dalglish signed Stewart Downing the summer after Carroll and Suarez arrived, it was widely expected that the England winger would be the man to provide the ammunition for Carroll to thrive from.
Again, it did not play out that way.
Dalglish's attempt to play a traditional 4-4-2 shape largely failed. The then-Liverpool boss ousted the previously in-form duo of Maxi Rodriguez and Dirk Kuyt in order to accommodate another new signing, but one who was far from comfortable as a natural winger: Jordan Henderson.
Liverpool fans were often found shaking their heads in bafflement as Dalglish would substitute Carroll and Downing for each other, rarely lining the two up in the same side.
Liverpool lacked cohesion, and Carroll struggled to find form.
Following Dalglish's departure and Brendan Rodgers' appointment in summer 2012, media and fans alike quickly began to list those players who would benefit from such changes, and those who would not. Carroll was immediately consigned to the latter list, and that was how it proved.
Rodgers allowed the 6'2" forward to leave on loan, something the Northern Irishman was already considering 10 days into his spell at Anfield, as per BBC Sport.
Whether you believe Carroll should have been "given a chance" under Rodgers is personal opinion, but there is a strong argument that the manager was vindicated by his ruthlessness, especially given the development of his Liverpool side in the 20 months since.
Quite simply, Carroll's style would never have suited a Rodgers side. It would not have worked, and it would in fact have been more problematic for Rodgers to have even persisted with Carroll for a short time. That first season was a key time for Rodgers, allowing him to shape the players he had into the style he desired. The profits of which are coming to fruition this season.
“We can’t afford to have that money sat on the bench," Rodgers said, as per The Telegraph, as economic sense and building for the future became paramount at Anfield. The exorbitant spending era of Dalglish and Damien Comolli paved way for prudence and planning under Rodgers and the newly formed transfer committee.
No analysis of Carroll at Liverpool would be worthy without some mention of the finances involved. Obviously the huge fee—inflated due to Chelsea paying such a huge sum for Torres and new Liverpool owners FSG keen to ensure they weren't viewed as "asset stripping"—can be a burden for players as young as Carroll was.
Perhaps, though, there is a case to be argued that Liverpool actually did better on the money they eventually recouped for Carroll than the failure of the initial fee paid. Liverpool received £2 million from West Ham for the initial loan, as per BBC Sport, plus the £15 million final transfer fee.
According to Telegraph Sport, West Ham could eventually have spent £50 million on Carroll over the six years of his contract. Surely, a far more ludicrous financial move than Liverpool's—especially given the two clubs' respective resources, and Carroll's injury problems since 2011.
Similarly, Manchester United are spending £300,000 per week on Wayne Rooney, a player who is past his prime at 28 years old, and they will not recoup the money if there is an eventual transfer deal. Liverpool at least spent huge on a player with potential and who they could sell on. The point here is that the Carroll deal was not as bad business as some still suggest, especially when you consider that Liverpool were handed £50 million from Chelsea later that same day.
Undoubtedly, Carroll is a very good footballer. What is in question is his technical attributes and his mental strength—two essential components under Rodgers. Further reasons for why he would not have worked out under the Northern Irishman.
Ultimately, Carroll "failed" at Anfield due to a culmination of circumstances, as is often the case in football. Perhaps, had injuries not affected him when they did, and had Dalglish's Liverpool reign taken a different direction, Carroll would still be at the club today.
Would Liverpool be in a better place with Dalglish in charge and Carroll up front? That's not a question that needs answering.
There should be no hard feelings toward Carroll, and Carroll should have none toward Liverpool, these things happen in football.
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