Does Andy Carroll have a future at Liverpool?

On Monday in a press conference, Brendan Rodgers hinted that Andy Carroll’s time at Liverpool may be coming to an end, by hinting that he wouldn’t be ruling out the possibility of loaning Carroll out next season. Predictably, as there isn’t much else to write about at present, this has provoked a lot of paper talk; with the media here in England full of stories that Carroll could be headed to West Ham, Fulham or even make a return to Newcastle.

Rodgers said, “It's something I would have to look at, I have to be honest...There are many things to going on loan. Is it going to be beneficial for the club, that's the most important thing?

"Sometimes a player going out on loan - in general, not just Andy - can benefit the club in the long term. It gets them game experience and they come back a better player, a more confident one. Certainly more so than if they've been sitting on the bench for the majority of the season.

"I'm not going to sit here and say I will never let anyone go on loan, then come in here in two weeks and a player's gone, and you're saying 'you said you wouldn't let them go”

This is a somewhat surprising stance for Rodgers to take. It is absolutely a manager’s prerogative to buy and sell whoever he chooses, but as he’s yet to see Carroll play, or even train first-hand, it’s hard to see what Rodgers would base a decision on loaning Carroll out on.

My argument at the time of Carroll’s signing was that it was an ‘all or nothing’ decision. The money spent on Carroll, a British transfer record £35m, was a gross overspend. Carroll wasn’t worth that much at the time, and still isn’t. That sort of transfer fee is reserved for the elite players in the game, and Carroll isn’t in that category. At the time, Carroll had only a little over 6 months Premier League experience, so signing him for such a large fee was an enormous risk. The best-case scenario would have been that Carroll continued his development and became an elite player. What I was concerned about was what would happen if it didn’t work out as Liverpool hoped, which is the scenario Liverpool currently find themselves in. If Liverpool were to sell Carroll, they would have to take a huge loss on him, and in an era of Financial Fair Play, that is a far from ideal scenario for the club.

It’s fair to say that Carroll hasn’t exactly been a roaring success since his move to Liverpool. Carroll arrived injured and it then took him a long period of time to get himself fit. He has struggled to come to terms with the level of expectation that comes with such a huge price tag. Kenny Dalglish never really found a way to adapt the way his team played to incorporate Carroll, and Carroll never really got either the service or the run of games he needed.

Last summer, Dalglish signed Stewart Downing, at great cost, primarily to provide the kind of crosses that Carroll would thrive on, but Downing had an atrocious season, not managing a single assist, and Carroll just wasn’t given the kind of service he needs to be effective. Instead of being given balls to attack in the box, Carroll mostly received flat long balls from deep, especially when Jamie Carragher was playing, which are not only easy to defend, but it nullifies the aerial threat Carroll possesses as all he could do was try to hold the ball up and look for a teammate, who all too often wasn’t there. Carroll came across as clumsy and totally out of his depth and was often left out of the team, which was devastating to his confidence.

To be fair to Dalglish, Carroll didn’t exactly meet him in the middle. He struggled to adapt to the way Liverpool played and didn’t make the necessary adjustments to his game in order to play the way Liverpool needed him to. He never managed to form a partnership with Luis Suarez and he struggled to get himself to the basic level of fitness required to be able to cope with Premier League football. For the majority of his Liverpool career he has looked like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole.

However, there were signs at the end of last season that it was beginning to click for Carroll. He got a long run of games and seemed to grow in confidence and was beginning to look like the player Liverpool thought they were signing. There seemed to be a spring in his step that had been missing for the previous 12 months. Carroll finished the season strongly, scoring a few goals, finally managing to find a way to work with Luis Suarez and generally having a far greater positive influence on games than he previously had. That late season form earned him a call-up to the England squad for EURO 2012, where he had a solid tournament, the highlight of which being when he scored an excellent attacking header against Sweden.

So, the hope amongst Liverpool fans is that Carroll was finally starting to turn into the player Liverpool hoped he’d be when they signed him and would use the promising finish to last season as a springboard to hopefully have a very successful season. It looked as though Carroll was finally starting to fit in at Liverpool.

Brendan Rodgers’ arrival seems to have changed that. Rodgers has a particular style of football that he likes to play, which entails a lot of short passing and plenty of movement. He also likes to play a high-tempo front three, and will want players who are comfortable playing in a variety of roles across that front three. Carroll can’t do that. Rodgers has made Fabio Borini his first signing, a player he knows from a spell at Swansea and a player who can play the way Rodgers wishes.

With Carroll, what you see is what you get. He’s good in the air, he’s strong, and he’s good at holding the ball up. He isn’t a particularly good passer (his pass completion stats last season were pathetic), he’s not quick or agile and hasn’t developed the experience necessary to be able to be effective when things aren’t going his way. Carroll won’t change too much in his career; he’ll never be a particularly technically proficient player. Criticising Carroll because he isn’t a particularly skilful player is a bit like criticising your cat because it can’t play fetch. I find it unlikely that if Carroll doesn’t fit in now, that a loan spell will somehow transform him into a player that will fit into Rodgers’ philosophy.

It’s possible that Rodgers would hope that a loan for Carroll would help his long-term prospects at Liverpool, but that historically hasn’t been the case. Once a player goes out on loan, especially a player who is an established first-team player, they very rarely come back to play a significant part for their club. It is difficult to envisage a scenario that would see Carroll loaned out for a season, and then brought back a season later to resume a place in the first-team. I’m sure the rationale would be that if Carroll was loaned out, Liverpool would hope he had a good season, so that they could sell him for the best possible price the following summer, and would hope the fee they get for the loan, and the money they saved on Carroll’s wages would go some way toward covering the loss they would have to take on Carroll.

Last season, Danny Graham, a player with many similar limitations to his game as Andy Carroll and with fewer of the upsides Carroll has to his game, flourished under Rodgers at Swansea, scoring 14 goals, so it is not impossible that Carroll could be an effective player in a system where the ball is played more on the floor, but it would take a huge amount of work for Carroll to not only adapt, but to maintain the requisite fitness levels for playing such a system.

I believe that a manager cannot have too many tactical options; one of the criticisms of Swansea last season was that they always played the same way (although many people also praised them for sticking to their principles and not changing how they played!), there was never a plan B. As the difference in spending power between the best Premier League teams and the rest is so vast, a few teams try to level the playing field by playing a very physical game. Those games would be where I believe Carroll would be an asset for Rodgers, as well as as a substitute, but it would be hard to justify having your record transfer being used largely as a plan B or an impact sub.

Rodgers isn’t an idiot. He’ll give Carroll a chance to show if he can adapt to the way he wants Liverpool to play before making a decision on his future. I think that Rodgers’ comments at that press conference were more for Carroll’s benefit than anything else. If Carroll plays as well as he did towards the end of last season, then I’m sure he’ll have no problem fitting into Rodgers side, but if he doesn’t put the effort into maintaining his fitness and can’t adapt his game, then Rodgers has stated he’ll have no problem in letting him go. The ball is firmly in Carroll’s court.