Carroll: King For a Season?

Andy CarrollIn September last year I wrote a post about the arrival of Andy Carroll at West Ham United and the cloud of uncertainty surrounding his future. At the time Liverpool had agreed to loan Carroll to West Ham for the remainder of the 2012-2013 season, with the option to sell permanently at season’s end. Last week we finally saw the conclusion to this chapter of the Carroll saga when it was announced that Carroll had signed a deal to make his move to Upton Park permanent. Carroll penned a six year contract (with the option of another 2 years after that) for a deal worth around £15-17 million – West Ham’s most expensive signing by some margin, eclipsing the 11 million spent on prising Matt Jarvis from Wolves.

In my earlier post I raised three concerns regarding Carroll’s (then loan) signing. I had hoped that these issues would have been resolved by now, but there is still much to ponder over at least 2 of these issues.

The biggest concern I had turns out to be the one thing that seems to have been resolved without too much drama – money, or more precisely the lack thereof. West Ham has never been a club overflowing with cash, so to see the club’s owners agreeing so readily to such a heady sum as £15-17 million came as something of a shock, especially when added to the amount paid for Jarvis. Messrs Gold and Sullivan do have deep pockets and have invested a great amount of their personal wealth in the club. They have earned the respect and loyalty of most of the West Ham fanbase, but it is hard not to feel at least a little nervous when such a huge amount is spent on a single player. Despite this, there is no doubting that a signing like this is an indication of the club’s growing ambition, and that is something to be commended.

The second concern surrounds Carroll’s commitment to the club. On a surface level this seems to be a non-issue. A six year contract would indicate that Carroll has enjoyed his brief stay at the Boleyn Ground and is committed to a long stay. Scratch beneath the surface however and there is still a lack of certainty about where Carroll’s long term commitment lies. Carroll had always made it clear that he saw his future at Anfield and wanted to prove that he could succeed as a Liverpool player. Once it became clear that Carroll did not feature in Brendan Rodgers’ plans (and never would), Carroll’s options became limited. As good a player as Carroll was at Newcastle, he did not convince at Liverpool and while impressive at times with West Ham, had not done enough in his limited appearances to attract any wealthy suitors. My feeling is that if Newcastle had agreed to Liverpool’s £15 million price tag, Carroll would have chosen them over West Ham and would now be back on Tyneside. Liverpool had every right to try and recoup as much as possible of their sizeable outlay on Carroll, but the reality is they were lucky to get any takers at that price. Once West Ham and Liverpool had agreed terms there was nowhere else for Carroll to go.

So how committed is Carroll to what is essentially his third choice club? The jury is still out for me. Carroll has shown he has a professional attitude and does work well with Sam Allardyce. His close relationship with captain Kevin Nolan has also been a key factor in keeping him at Upton Park. This is all well and good for season 2013-14. All going well, Carroll will have a top campaign and score the goals we expected from him last season. With a bit of luck he may even make the England World Cup squad. What then? I might be perceived as being a mite cynical, but it would not surprise me if Andy started looking further afield at some bigger clubs. Unless West Ham overachieve and qualify for Europe (even then it would be the Tiddlywinks Europa League) I can’t see Carroll putting down roots at the Boleyn Ground or the Olympic Stadium. I would be happy to be proved wrong, but I guess we will have to wait and see.

Carroll and NolanAll of this may be moot if the final concern of mine rears its ugly head: INJURY. Carroll spent much of last season on the sideline, and though I have read numerous articles stating that he is not injury-prone, the evidence suggests otherwise. Two fairly major injuries last season were exacerbated by the heel injury sustained on the last day of the season. Just like the earlier injuries, what appeared to be a relatively minor knock will now keep Carroll out for the entire close season and quite possibly the start of the new Premier League campaign in August. Carroll is not the sort of player who can slot back in after an injury and pick up where he left off. He needs plenty of match time before he can get back to the level expected of him. At this rate we could be looking at September or even later before we see Carroll at anywhere near his best. In the meantime the search is on for another top striker to partner/back up Carroll. Carlton Cole has been released and there are hints that Maiga and even Vaz Te’s positions at the club may not be certain. Top strikers are few and far between so I’m not holding my breath for anyone of real note. If nothing else they’d better be as tough as teak because there is no way they can afford to be injured with Mr Carroll on the scene.

There is always a lot of speculation at this stage of the year, so my concerns may come to nothing in the end. On the other hand a whole new set of problems may arise…such is the life of the football fan. The close season makes football fans a little crazy, mainly because very few people really seem to know what is going on, and those that do keep their cards very close to their chests. It is never less than entertaining however, and I think most fans wouldn’t have it any other way. Let the madness ensue!

Andy Carroll scores against West Bromich Albion, March 2013. More please Andy!

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Reflections on the Season: A Job Well Done

Andy Carroll BubblesWith another Premier League season now over, I thought it a good time to reflect on an uneven but ultimately successful season for West Ham United.

The season finished on a high note with a win at home against relegated Reading. Although 4-2 sounds comfortable enough, at one stage a 2-0 half-time lead had evaporated and Reading were right back in it at 2-2. A couple of late goals did the trick, but the win became harder work than it should have been. The score could have easily been double what it was, such were the number of chances created.

In players like Mo Diame and Matt Jarvis, West Ham have brought in genuine playmakers with the vision to create scoring opportunities from just about anywhere on the field. Both took a while to settle (Jarvis was also out injured for some time) but they showed their value over a long season. Opportunities are one thing, goals another. Of those there were too few. It is an indication of the club’s lack of forward stocks that the leading scorer for the club was Kevin Nolan with 10 goals. Nolan is an attacking player, but you would expect to see a striker at the top of the goals scored ledger. Andy Carroll was the best of the rest with 7, most of those goals coming in the latter part of the season. To be fair to Andy, injuries curtailed what looked like a promising season for the loanee from Liverpool. When match fit, he did look the goods and was always a handful for opposition defences.

As a loan player, Carroll was certainly worth the investment, despite limited opportunities. Sam Allardyce has made it clear that the club wants Andy on a permanent basis. Terms have been agreed with Liverpool, so now it is up to Andy whether he wants to stay. Messrs Gold and Sullivan have indicated how important Andy is to their plans, but if he does agree to stay, will the club get its money’s worth? The season has only just ended and Carroll is already injured, out of action for at least 6 weeks and quite possibly longer. Injury is part and parcel of modern sport, but Carroll does seem to be less than robust.

All this remains to be seen but in the meantime the club has dispensed with the services of Carlton Cole, a striker who performed creditably and with great loyalty over 7 years. Carlton isn’t the player he was but can still produce quality performances and could still have offered enough experience to justify a one year contract extension.

Despite a lack of goals, there was plenty to be positive about this season. Establishing yourself in the Premier League is no easy feat for a newly promoted club, and West Ham can be happy with their 10th position. They never once slipped into the relegation zone and produced some outstanding team and individual performances.  Highlights for me were the win over Chelsea (of course!) and the closely fought draw with Manchester United in the FA Cup. There were hard-earned away wins over Newcastle and Stoke, as well as a memorable 3-0 thrashing of Fulham in September. This was the fans first look at Andy Carroll, and despite not scoring he had a huge influence on the outcome of the match.

Winston ReidThe player of the season was Winston Reid, no question. A solid player last season, Reid rose to a new level in 2012-13. Defensively he was consistently strong and decisive, and from this came a confidence which spread to the rest of the defence despite key injuries to George McCartney and James Tomkins. Such was Reid’s growth as a senior member of the side, he was given the captain’s armband on more than one occasion. He deservedly won West Ham’s player of the season award. Other standout performers were newly signed Mo Diame and (particularly in the first half of the season) Kevin Nolan. There were a number of cracking goals scored, but the best for me was the little seen Modibo Maiga’s goal against Southampton.

I don’t want to dwell too much on the worst performances, but the loss to a poor Aston Villa was disappointing, as was the hammering at Sunderland. Arsenal inflicted a 5-1 defeat, but they can do that to the best of sides. The most memorable losses were those to Liverpool and Spurs, if only because they could so easily have been victories. The Spurs loss in particular was gut-wrenching, not least because they have made a habit of snatching improbable wins at West Ham’s expense. Bale’s goal was terrific (as was he) but that doesn’t make it an easier pill to swallow.

Overall, it is hard to be too critical of season 2012-13, particularly when compared to West Ham’s previous outing in the Premier League. If Premier League history has taught us anything however, it is that the second season is often the toughest. West Ham discovered that in 2007, and it took a miracle by the name of Carlos Tevez to save them. There are promising signs for the future though – Allardyce is an astute if unspectacular manager, and he knows how to get the best out of his players. He will need to bring a few more good ones in for next season, particularly up front.

The biggest cause for optimism this season happened without a ball being kicked. After a drawn out legal battle involving 3 football clubs (Leyton Orient? Really?) and several false dawns, West Ham finally won the right to call the Olympic Stadium their home ground from 2016. As sad as it is to say goodbye to The Boleyn Ground with its rich history and wonderful memories, the Olympic Stadium move is critical for the club’s future. Without it comes footballing and financial uncertainty. With it comes a bigger stadium (and increased revenue), world class facilities and an opportunity for the club to attract bigger investment. With investment comes security, and while money isn’t the cure-all some would make it out to be, without it any club’s ambitions will always be limited. While West Ham fans have their feet firmly on the ground (we’ve learned we have to after so many falls!) it would be foolish not to have an ambitious eye on the future. Few West Ham fans would want to see the club become the ugly juggernaut that is Manchester City, but consistent top 10 finishes, good cup runs and the odd European campaign are not too much to ask for.

We still have a few seasons of football before that however, starting with a fresh Premier League campaign in August. Here’s hoping it continues the positive mood at the club. What better way to start than by confirming the permanent signing of Andy Carroll. Fingers crossed….come on Andy!

Calling Out the Cowards: A Fan’s Perspective on Anti-Semitism in Football

Being a West Ham fan, I have to say that I am used to disappointment. Perhaps unfairly, we West Ham fans tend to expect a lot from our club, despite the fact that only once in the club’s history have they been a force in English football. This was in the 1960s, when the club boasted names like Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters, who starred for England during the 1966 World Cup.

Nowadays we are more realistic. Staying in the Premiership is essential, but we also hope each season that the club can finish in the top half of the table, and even have a half decent Cup run every few years.

If this doesn’t happen, we can deal with it. We Irons are a resilient bunch.

What happens off the field is much harder to deal with. The despicable actions that took place at White Hart Lane on Saturday were awful to witness, no matter where you were. The level of anti-Semitism directed at the Tottenham team and fans by part of the section of travelling West Ham fans was abhorrent and beyond disappointing.

I couldn’t call myself your typical West Ham fan. I’m not from East London to start with. I’m not even English – I’m a New Zealander. Even when I lived in the UK for close to two years, I lived in West London. Despite all that, I am as loyal and die-hard as any West Ham supporter, and have supported my club for 31 of my 39 years. I like to think that my reaction to the scenes in North London would mirror that of 99% of West Ham fans around the world.

Unfortunately, like many clubs, West Ham has a small contingent of “supporters” who are essentially societal dregs who like to make their prejudices and hatred known to as big an audience as they can.

Well, this week they got their wish.

Like recent incidents in football involving allegations of racism, the anti-semitiic chants and ‘gas chamber hissing’ that were heard at the Spurs-West Ham match became headline news, creating far more interest than the match itself.

Should this have been the case? By pushing the incident to the front of the newspapers, has the FA given these lowlifes the platform they are seeking?

A few years ago I might have answered yes to this question. When bringing hate crime issues out into the open to help find a solution, there is always the potential to give its proponents and worst offenders some mileage while creating more hurt for victims.

To be honest, that is a chance we have to take. Any kind of hate crime cannot be tolerated in the slightest, whether it is in a political context or a sporting one. The social ramifications are too serious to ignore. We all know what happens in tough economic and social climes – the blame game begins in earnest. It is much easier if there is someone else to blame.

The FA and West Ham United need to find as many of the culprits as they can, and I believe they will. There have already been some arrests made and more may follow. I do think that they are still a minority, but they are a cancerous blight on a wonderful football club and need to be rooted out and made an example of.

Kudos to Harry Redknapp for his words this week. Too many managers prefer to stay silent on matters like this, preferring to live in a bubble where sport lives beyond the reach or touch of the rest of society. Harry knows West Ham and Tottenham culture as well as anyone, having managed both clubs, and isn’t afraid to speak his mind:

“We don’t want to go back to what we had with  all the violence in the Seventies — we can’t have that again. When they get in a group it’s filth. It’s  disgusting and people are supposed to stand there and take it. They chant at managers, at players and at  each other and it has nothing to do with the football. They are cowards. It’s  disgusting and I keep hearing it, but it’s not right.”

This isn’t what fans want to hear, but it is the cold, harsh truth. Until we face this and start dealing with this kind of behaviour then we risk undoing all the good work that has been done in football to combat racism and hate crimes.

We cannot let this happen, it is simply far too important.

If you’re interested in reading more on this issue, I highly recommend Billy Blagg’s article on this incident, posted this week on his ESPN blog:

No Defending the Undefendable

Gabriele Marcotti on the Hillsborough Report

Click on the photo to read Gabrielle Marcotti’s moving article.

So the Hillsborough Independent Panel Report has finally been released, and as expected the fans who fought for their lives that dark day in Sheffield have been exonerated. About time? No. About time would have been 23 years ago.

I’m sharing this link as Gabriele Marcotti has expressed my feelings on this far better than I ever could. I won’t say too much on this matter (not much for me, anyway…) as there are people closer to this issue who can give a far more informed opinion than I can. There is already plenty of comment and debate out there, and I hope there will be a lot more informed discussion over the coming days and weeks.

I would say, however, that closure may be some way off. While I’m glad that the truth has finally come out, it has only served to make me angrier that after 23 years all we are getting are more apologies and hand wringing. Politicians are great at stating the obvious but is anyone going to take responsibility? Perhaps the best we will get is that a select few will be made accountable. The level of deceit and wrongdoing is so breathtaking however, that it would be ludicrous to expect culpability to rest with one or two individuals. I hope this is not the outcome of the investigation that must now take place, as it would only create scapegoats instead of providing justice. Blame must be apportioned, but not in the form of a witch hunt.

One thing is certain, the findings of the Hillsborough Report are not the final words on this matter. Let us hope though that it is perhaps the beginning of the end, and at that endpoint there is indeed closure for the families of the 96, if not some peace.

Oh, Carroll!

This has been an interesting week for West Ham fans, to say the least. After weeks of speculation about the future of Andy Carroll, we got the news that Liverpool (and most importantly, Carroll) had agreed on a loan deal that would see Carroll play this season at Upton Park.
In the frenzy and at times euphoria that seems to engulf fans and the media on August 31st, there was the usual lack of clarity over the terms of transfers and loan deals. This is not as big an issue when players are bought and sold, though the final cost of a player once “add ons” are included can make good buys look more like a blow out in the final wash.
Loan deals can be very murky, as the specifics of the deal often aren’t revealed until later, and clubs can sometimes do their best to keep it this way if the terms of the loan are better for the club at the other end of the deal. In this case that was always going to be difficult as Carroll is such a high profile player and the story had been around for most of the northern summer. Will he? Won’t he? First it was all go, with both clubs agreeing on a loan deal with the option of a full transfer at the end of the season, at the whopping price of 19 million, no less.
I may have been in the minority, but I was quietly relieved when it appeared this deal was off. Carroll was adamant that he wanted to fight for his place at Anfield, and didn’t want to go out on loan, even if this meant a guarantee of regular football. Kudos to you, Andy….and 19 million retained that really couldn’t be afforded anyway. Once Matt Jarvis was finally prised from Wolves for 11 million (including the “add ons”), the Carroll deal looked dead and buried. West Ham had got their big buy for the season, and Wolves had extracted every cent they could out of them for it.
Then we heard the news that the deal was back on, in fact it was happening. Done. Signed. Sorted. A season long loan deal with the option to complete a permanent deal for an “undisclosed” fee next summer. The word undisclosed always rings alarms bells for me. It is reportedly around the 17 million mark, this on top of the 1 million paid as part of the loan deal .Personally I think these fees should always be disclosed. Why not put your cards on the table now so everyone knows where they stand, including the fans. If Carroll were to become indispensible to the club, it puts the club in a very difficult position financially. If they can’t afford to buy him the only other option is to extend the loan, something both Liverpool and Carroll would be reluctant to accept.
As it turns out, it is now unclear whether “season long” loan means that at all. While cautiously elated (a strange state of mind familiar to most West Ham fans) with the Carroll deal, my biggest concern was whether there was an option for Liverpool to recall Carroll during the January transfer window. This concern was heightened when it became apparent that Liverpool had made a hash of the soap opera that was their wooing of Clint Dempsey. After making less than subtle advances towards Dempsey all summer, they offered Fulham a paltry 3 million. Really??? Not surprisingly, Fulham laughed in their collective face and Spurs promptly bought Dempsey from under Liverpool’s condescending nose. Egg on face, nose, everywhere. In the end Spurs got their man for the bargain price of 6 million.
Now we hear from Brendan Rodgers no less, that Liverpool has the option to bring Carroll back in the January transfer window, should they so choose.
Liverpool is left with essentially 2 strike options in Suarez and the unproven Borini, so they are desperate for reinforcement. They may look further afield in the January window if they have not solved their striker issues by then, but if Carroll is firing at West Ham, wouldn’t Rodgers bite the bullet (or be made to) and bring him back? Surely questions would be asked if he didn’t, short of securing a superstar in the next transfer window. Based on their current dealings, this seems highly unlikely.
To me it appears that West Ham agreed to this term expecting Liverpool to find a replacement before the close of the window on the 31st. They must have been nearly as disappointed as Liverpool when this didn’t happen.
To make matters worse, the hamstring injury that Carroll picked up on Saturday after playing so well appears to be worse than first anticipated. West Ham fans will have an anxious wait until the damage is fully assessed and an announcement is made, hopefully soon. If he is out for some time, there remains the real prospect that Carroll’s time at West Ham could be brief. There would be nothing worse than Carroll coming back from injury in mid to late November, finding form before Christmas and then being gratefully plucked back north by a repentant Rodgers.
The injury to Carroll also means West Ham would have their own forward shortage. Vaz Te, Cole and Maiga don’t look half as useful without Carroll there. Now is the time of the free agent. Those players who have bided their time, waiting for the desperate club to take whatever slim pickings they can get, and make them pay more than they are worth.
I hope both clubs avoid this route, particularly with two prominent free agents, Michael Owen and Emile Heskey. Both are past their prime, injury prone and not worth the wages they demand. I have watched all through the transfer window, hoping I would not see the words West Ham and Emile Heskey in the same sentence. Now that the window is closed, it would be bitterly disappointing to see such a backward looking move at the 11th hour. On behalf of all West Ham fans, I beg of you, don’t do it Sam!