Brendan Rodgers sounding more positive about the prospect of an Anfield return, is it a telling sign that the club with have less money to work with in the summer?
The Merseyside club and Rodgers in particular will be extremely wary of leaving themselves short in terms of depth up front again in the summer, just like they did last season after loaning out Caroll, with moves for Daniel Sturridge and Clint Dempsey falling through, meaning Luis Suarez had to completely carry the squad until January by himself, with Fabio Borini sidelined with a foot injury.
There have been signs that Rodgers has been easing his stance on the 24-year-old target man of late, though, telling reporters last week: “Do I think he can be a top player? Is he a top player? He certainly has that potential. If he gets that opportunity of playing in a team that suits his style, then there’s always a chance. It was very unfortunate for Andy when he joined this club because he had limited experience of the Premier League.
“Through no fault of his own he arrived on the back of an incredible price tag for someone so young and inexperienced, and the early stages were difficult for him. But there’s no doubt Andy has great qualities. Look at one of his two goals last week for West Ham from the corner (in a 3-1 win over West Brom).
“There are not too many better sights in football when you’ve the big guy going and heading the ball like that. As to his future, there are other things involved, it’s not as simple as him being here. There are other things we need to consider in it all. As I’ve said, it’s one where we will see it through to the end of the season and we’ll take it from there.”
The sight of the England international scoring three goals in his last two games while Liverpool have toiled during back-to-back 0-0 draws against West Ham and Reading in the league, which all but ensured the club will miss out on European football next season, has seen Carroll’s future become a topic of debate once more, especially with Sturridge struggling for form since returning from respective thigh and hamstring injuries with four goalless displays to his name recently.
However, with Hammers manager Sam Allardyce asked directly on Monday whether Carroll’s recent purple patch had persuaded him to make the move permanent in the summer, he ruled the transfer out: “The hardest thing is the overall package, the overall negotiation which needs to go on to make sure it can be sustainable in terms of what we can do. But I will still point towards the financial restrictions being implemented – they could blow the whole deal in one go. Financially you are restricted to be able to do it. “
“So, in one fell swoop the financial restrictions mean Andy Carroll can’t sign for us from Liverpool because it’s too expensive, even if he wanted to. Even if I wanted him, even if the chairmen wanted him, even if we all wanted him – which we do – it will not be allowed to happen.”
Of course, Allardyce’s view is a perfectly legitimate one, but he makes it sound as if he’s been caught on the hop by a massive Uefa initiative that’s been on the horizon for three years now. It’s really very simple, West Ham have had no intention of buying Carroll for quite some time, but his recent form in front of goal has got people talking, so they’ve been backed into a corner and are trying to play all cute. His ropey record with injuries has killed any chance of a deal and why on earth would they even contemplate putting all their eggs in one basket? A basket that happens to have a giant hole in it.
Carroll has started just 43 times in the league since moving to Anfield two-and-a-half years ago, so reliability is hardly his main asset, which greatly narrows the amount of potential suitors interested in him, with recent reports putting his value at just £7m with Newcastle supposedly interested in taking him back to the North East in the summer. It’s certainly the best fit, but not at that price, while his £90-000 per week wages act as a further massive stumbling block to overcome before any departure is assured.
Instead, Liverpool will look to protect their investment and try and play clubs off one another in a face-saving measure. They’ve been bullied far too often in negotiations in the recent past, but when it comes to the embarrassing £35m outlay on Carroll, they’ll want to take as small a financial hit as possible. They’d absolutely snap West Ham or anyone else’s hands off if they were offered £17m this summer after yet another stop-start campaign.
The two biggest determining factors which point to Rodgers simply not having the sizeable budget he’d clearly desire, and which could see him forced to keep Carroll for the time being, are that Liverpool’s net debt increased by a third from £65.4m in July 2011 to £87.2m in May 2012, while they forked out the best part of £20m during the January window on recruiting Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho.
When look at the many areas that the club need to address in terms of deadwood in the summer and a dearth in quality, areas such as at centre-back, left-back, holding midfield and a genuine winger with pace and precision are far bigger priorities than finding a replacement for Carroll in the squad. It may simply be deemed a hassle not worth bothering with if there’s no real market or value in selling his signature elsewhere.
It’s a strange situation that the forward finds himself in; without a place to call home, a settled side to play in and routinely bereft of confidence and short of match fitness, yet there are still those that wonder what he could do at Anfield and hope he’ll be given the chance because of tangible attributes such as his aerial ability and power – two aspects the squad in general is lacking, having been bullied by several more combative teams in the top flight this season. They may well get their wish in the summer, but entirely for the wrong reasons.