By Kevin Koczwara
Andy Carroll didn’t put the £35million price tag around his neck. He never valued himself on the transfer market. Liverpool and Newcastle United did that for him. He didn’t even turn in a transfer request — as so many players do this day to force a move. He was a 21-year-old misfit with bad hair, wide shoulders and a drinking problem, who had the ability to score from crosses. Yet, we view him as a £35million waste of space with bad hair, a pubic hair beard and the ability to not score.
But is it his fault that the £35million get wrapped up in the conversation? No.
At the time, when Newcastle was making an impressive comeback from the Championship, he was worth £35million to Newcastle. For Liverpool, he was worth more like £15million (I’m being nice). But, the sides met at the Newcastle price because Liverpool felt it needed another No.9 after it’s famous and heralded Spaniard left the ranks for a fatter contract in flashy London.
Is this Andy Carroll’s fault? No. He didn’t do any of the negotiating. In fact, I’m sure if he had it his way he’d still be bunking up at Kevin Nolan’s house in the Tyneside and being a fan favorite instead of a fan least favorite in the Merseyside.
I feel for Andy Carroll. I root for him. I want him to take the weight from the “most expensive British player ever” and shove it down all the tabloids and bloggers throats. I want him to break the funk. I want him to shave that damn beard-thing, maybe clean up his hair and look like a proper player — it would go a long way to helping your image, Andy. I want him to right the Liverpool ship and become a fan favorite. I want his lumbering moves to become swan-like, but I know the transformation won’t happen this year, even with Luis Suarez missing plenty of action.
I know this because I understand the pressure Carroll is under. Not literally of course. I have never had that kind of pressure. But I understand the kind of pressure sports fans can put on the highly-touted saviors. I understand the kind of pressure that comes with replacing a club legend like Fernando Torres. I understand because it happens everywhere in every sport for every club or team at one point or another.
At this time, the Boston Celtics are floundering. They are sinking beneath the sand and their withered, old legs can’t get them out. I know, in a few seasons, the likes of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Peirce will no longer be dawning the green-and-white. I feel for whoever has to replace them, especially the scorer and wing-man that has to replace Pierce, arguably the Celtic’s all-time best scorer. There will be an immense pressure to replicate the success of the “new big three.”
The weight for the next great generation of Celtics have to look up at the rafters at the TD Banknorth Garden and see all the greats. They see the banners representing the most NBA Championships in league history — 17. They have to hear the stories of the greats — Russell, Cowens, Cousy, Jones, Silas, White, Havlick, Bird, McHale, Parish, Heinsohn, and every other one I’m missing — over and over again. The montages never stop. The pressure to live up to those greats never gets smaller. There is pressure to continue the winning ways of the past, to relive periods of dominance. It weighs on players, especially those who never wanted the pressure.
It takes a special athlete who wants, breathes and needs that kind of pressure. The suffocating scrutiny can kill lesser men and women. The constant barrage of comparisons can break someone’s spirit. It’s not a burden I wish on any player.
Andy Carroll has a similar weight to that of the next crop of Celtics. He has the weight of a successful past — 18 First Division Championships; 7 FA Cups; 7 League Cups; 5 European Cups/Champions League; 3 UEFA Cups; 3 UEFA Super Cups — and great players like Kenny Dalglish, Robbie Fowler, Ian Rush, John Barnes, etc. He has the weight of helping Liverpool lift its first league championship since the dawn of the Premier League — a drought Celtics’ fans know all too well after Bird, McHale, and Parish withered out, not unlike the current ‘Big Three’ is doing in front of our eyes. For a 22-year-old kid, that’s heavy sac he’s carrying. It’s probably not what he asked for. But he got it.
He’s out there making a mess of something that is suppose to be beautiful. He’s tripping over his own feet, flopping all over the box, hitting the woodwork, shooting at the opposing goalkeeper, and missing the net completely. He’s not scoring, which is what Liverpool bought him to do. He doesn’t look fit. Instead, he looks lost. He looks too far from home. He looks tired. He looks a hiker climbing Mt. Everest without a Sherpa, weighed down by the pressure, the atmosphere and the expectations.
Most of all, Carroll looks a shell of the player that wore the black and white kit of Newcastle. He isn’t winning the balls in the air in the box or getting on the end of crosses. He isn’t breaking into the box, pressuring defenders when wingers get up the side and are ready to cross. Too often this season, Carroll has played the ball out wide and continued to the edge of the box, towards the ball, further from the net. He should be running into the box, trying to beat a defender to either the near or far post. He should want to score the way he scored at Newcastle. He looks like he wants to be Suarez, playing the ball with his feet instead of his head, playing give-and-goes, trying to outwit defenders. He can’t do that.
I want Andy Carroll to succeed at Liverpool. I want him to have success and score goals. But I know he’ll never live up the his price tag. It’s time I get over it and realize he still has the potential to be a feared striker in the Premier League. Now, if someone can come along and help him with his backpack, he’s got a long hike still to go.