An unhappy return
Rob Parrish looks at Andy Carroll's woes and finds some sympathy for the struggling Liverpool forward.
By Rob Parrish - Follow me on Twitter @skysportsrobp
Last Updated: 02/04/12 12:45pm
As homecomings go, Andy Carroll's return to Newcastle on Sunday could not have been much more miserable.
Jeered from the moment he stepped off the Liverpool team bus in the North East, Carroll endured an afternoon with absolutely no redeeming features whatsoever and one which will hardly aid the already fragile confidence of a young man burdened by the media spotlight, the expectation and demands of producing the goods for one of the biggest clubs in the country and a £35million price tag.
The Gateshead-born striker hardly aided his cause with the shameful tumble to the turf in the penalty box inside the first 10 minutes that earned him a deserved booking and ensured that the vitriol aimed in his direction from the towering stands at St James' Park was ramped up several notches.
But it is hard not to feel sympathy for a 23-year-old who is clearly struggling to come to terms with a move away from his local club and the support network of family members. Tyneside to Merseyside may be regarded as a relatively short distance in these days of globalisation, but some people simply prefer the comforts of home and familiar surroundings.
In anticipation of a less than warm welcome from the Toon Army who once idolised him prior to his first outing in front of the Gallowgate following his contentious departure in January 2011, all the key parties appeared at pains to dampen the fervour surrounding Sunday's return.
Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish pointed out that the transfer was outside the England international's control, Magpies counterpart Alan Pardew backed his former charge to rediscover his potency in front of goal, several old team-mates spoke of his abilities and Toon assistant John Carver highlighted the improvements made to their squad, courtesy of the funds from the forward's sale.
Carroll, for his part, gave one interview to the local North East newspaper in which he pledged not to celebrate should he find the net. This olive branch was metaphorically snatched from his hand, snapped, burned and thrown back in his face by the many fine comedians on Twitter who had a field day with his attempt at reconciliation.
And yet it could have all been so different. Quite why Carroll elected to throw himself to the ground having taken the ball beyond goalkeeper Tim Krul with the goal set to be at his mercy is a question only he can answer. Dalglish's contention that the giant striker was off balance will cut no ice with anyone who has seen the incident and I'm not buying the conspiracy theory that Carroll was looking to get the goalkeeper sent off, giving the Reds a greater advantage against 10 men and the likely lead from the penalty spot. There wasn't time for such a thought process.
The more likely explanation is that Carroll was anticipating the contact from Krul, only to be outsmarted by the Dutchman who withdrew his hands at the last moment. It would be nice if forwards on every team up and down the land didn't behave in such a manner, but let's not be naïve and pretend they don't.
From that point on, Carroll's impact on the action was minimal, with one header looped onto the roof of the net in the first half the closest he came. But with Liverpool's most natural wide players Stewart Downing and Maxi kicking their heels on the bench, the service the 6ft 3in striker used to thrive on during his time with Newcastle was limited at best.
It was hardly a surprise when Dalglish elected to make a change with 11 minutes remaining, but that decision only afforded the gleeful home support a further opportunity to gloat and goad a miserable and emotional Carroll as he trudged to the sidelines, with widespread reports that he made his feelings known to the Anfield boss before storming down the tunnel and removing the shirt from his back.
He was not the only Liverpool player to suffer under the red mist on Sunday, with Pepe Reina ruling himself out of the FA Cup semi-final against Everton with an utterly unnecessary head-to-head with James Perch. I won't call it a head-butt, because the Spaniard's forehead barely grazed the nose of his opponent who embarrassingly went to ground as though felled by Wladimir Klitschko, but the aggressive intent was enough to warrant the red card.
Dalglish has subsequently called on his players to channel their frustration in a more constructive manner, yet it is not just on the field that all is not well, with increasing murmurs of discontent from supporters over their direction under the Anfield legend, who may have delivered silverware this season in the shape of the Carling Cup, but has since presided over a run of six defeats in seven Premier League games.
Carroll's current woes are just one aspect of the ills affecting Liverpool this season. He is one of a number of big-money buys financed by the club's owner John W Henry, orchestrated by director of football Damien Comolli and currently failing to live up to expectations under manager Dalglish.
Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam and Jose Enrique were enlisted for a shade under £50million and while they, along with Carroll, have played their part in securing one trophy this term with the FA Cup still to play for, the anticipated push for a return to the UEFA Champions League has failed to emerge.
Even the most ardent Liverpool supporter would admit that the club paid way over the odds for Carroll, but he proved during his Newcastle days that he has the raw potential, power, strength and frame to be a potent weapon in the Premier League.
Sadly, at present, and particularly at St James' on Sunday, he has looked out of his depth at the highest level with any desire to win the ball in the air often lacking and the required anticipation of the movement of his team-mates around him seemingly missing. The stark facts are that he has scored six goals in 40 appearances this term, with half of those strikes coming against lower league sides.
Quite what Dalglish and his coaching team need to do to coax the best out of a young man with great promise but shattered self-belief is a riddle they are doubtless working long hours to solve, but it is one which will have been made only more complex by the unfortunate events of this weekend.