England are desperate and the Liverpool striker has proved he can play, if only briefly
Kenny Dalglish described Andy Carroll as “unplayable” after Liverpool’s 4-1 defeat of Chelsea on Tuesday night. So what, you might say. A manager who has spent £35m on a player would say that wouldn’t he? But Dalglish would have been relieved to be able to say it because he has been asked questions about his centre-forward after almost every game Liverpool have played for over a year, and there have been very few occasions when he could reply with such an emphatic affirmative without having the room collapse in laughter.
Carroll, of course, came on for the last half hour at Wembley in the FA Cup final last weekend, scored an impressive goal, came very close indeed to at least one more and looked every inch a game-changing substitution. Not only did he score to put Liverpool back into the game, he gave his side a better shape and a more effective sense of direction. As soon as Carroll came on, Liverpool looked more purposeful and dangerous, and the Chelsea manager admitted as much afterwards. “We were the better team for an hour, but when Carroll came on he caused us some problems,” Roberto Di Matteo said. “He is a physical presence but has a good touch, he is quite a hard opponent to deal with.”
So. You know what’s coming now, don’t you? The England squad for Euro 2012 is due to be announced next week. Should Carroll be in it, on the basis of a couple of hours of decent football right at the end of a season in which he has toiled with extremely limited success? Are England really so desperate for a striker they should call up someone who has yet to force his way permanently into the Liverpool team?
You can stop that sniggering now, because the answer is probably yes. England are that desperate. Wayne Rooney is banned for the first two games, Darren Bent has missed the past two months through injury. Jermain Defoe has become a bit player at Spurs, and while Peter Crouch is getting regular football at Stoke he has not exactly made an unanswerable case for himself with his form or his goals. If it came down to a choice between Crouch and Carroll, who would you choose? Crouch might have the edge in international experience, but Carroll is younger, more direct, and on his day – just ask Chelsea – capable of terrorising defenders.
Still not convinced? Nor am I, actually. How old is Grant Holt again? Three months younger than Crouch, as it happens. The Norwich striker scored exactly the sort of goal that everyone imagined Carroll had been brought to Liverpool to score in the 1-1 draw at Anfield this season, but that was because Anthony Pilkington had sent over the perfect, hanging cross from the right touchline that old fashioned centre-forwards love to launch themselves to try to meet. Liverpool almost never do that, which is why Carroll’s aerial threat appears to have been diminished. Carroll was a substitute for that Norwich game too (so was Grant actually), and when he finally came on both Craig Bellamy and Stewart Downing had been withdrawn, drastically reducing the supply of crosses from the wings. Yet when he plays with confidence, Carroll is undoubtedly a better bet on the floor than Holt, and his heading ability would be an advantage for any England team as long as they refrained from simply pumping long balls in his direction as a short cut to moving up the pitch.
So while a Carroll for England campaign might appear simply a knee-jerk reaction to only a few impressive games, at least they came at the right end of the season and the player has a bit of momentum in his favour. Who else has finished the season impressively, apart from Rickie Lambert in the Championship? Victor Moses has opted for Nigeria. Danny Welbeck has tailed off a little and picked up a slight injury, but still deserves to go. But Carroll’s claims should not be overlooked. As the FA Cup final demonstrated, he can at least come on as substitute and change a game. He could be England’s Plan B. That was always how Crouch used to be described, though that Plan B never used to trouble defenders too much because England playing balls up towards Crouch was not only desperate but predictable.
It need not be that way with Carroll. He has proved he can play, if only briefly, and he has shown he can perform on a big stage. He ought to be at least worth a look. Fabio Capello took a look but never seemed able to make up his mind, partly because Carroll was either injured or out of the Liverpool first team. Roy Hodgson finds him fit and in form and, never having had the chance to work with him at Anfield, one would imagine the new England manager would take the opportunity to bring him in and check him out. While Carroll may still need more time to justify his £35m price tag at Liverpool, with England that really shouldn’t be a problem.