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!

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!