Carroll can reach the top… just don’t call him Al

Newcastle United is not an easy club to play for, and the number nine shirt is not an easy one to fill. Andy Carroll did both with aplomb last weekend, crashing in an impressive hat-trick for the Toon in front of the watching Franco Baldini. It seems almost blasphemous to compare Carroll to the Magpies’ most famous number nine already, but his movement, strength and deadly finishing last weekend have provoked some to memories of a certain BBC pundit in his netbusting prime. The question is: Can Carroll live up to all the hype?

Barely 24 hours after Carroll beat Brad Friedel to score his first goal of the season, he was the name on everyone’s lips. Many ex-professionals (many, it must be said, are linked with Newcastle) had already anointed Carroll as the England number nine in waiting and suggested that he had jumped Peter Crouch, Bobby Zamora, Darren Bent et al in the England pecking order.

Crouch has been a reliable source of goals for England, while Zamora impressed on his international debut against Hungary. However, both players will be 33 by the time the next World Cup comes around and with the ever-hypocritical Capello hell-bent on promoting young players to the international fold (even if they feature rarely for their clubs), it seems unlikely that either player can be realistically considered a permanent solution to the perennial ‘Rooney + 1’ dilemma. Bent, meanwhile, must be the unluckiest man in England when it comes to international football. He was overlooked for the past two World Cups despite scoring a phenomenal 42 Premier League goals in the seasons preceding them. Bent scores goals in the Premier League. Fact. Foreign England managers with strange accents and designer spectacles don’t fancy him. Fact.

When searching for the much fabled ‘England number nine’, providing we assume that Kevin Davies isn’t on the verge of a call-up and that Jermain Defoe remains destined for a substitute’s role, this essentially leaves Carroll as the only option regularly playing in the Premier League. He’s hardly a shoddy striker, either. He impressed on occasion during the Toon’s last spell in the big time, while 19 goals last term certainly show he knows where the goal is. His display against Villa followed a credible run out against Manchester United at Old Trafford, where, despite a lack of quality service from the likes of Jonas ‘better than Fabregas’ Gutierrez, he looked anything but out of his depth. Indeed, his reintroduction to the Premier League has proved such a statement of intent that there could be some justification in the Gallowgate End’s cries of ‘Carroll for England’ and it was something of a surprise when his inclusion in the under-21 squad ruled him out of contention for the opening of England’s Euro 2012 qualifying campaign.

But comparisons to Shearer are surely premature. Shearer was an England international who netted over 30 goals for his country. 17 league goals last season was impressive by Carroll, but we have to remember that they came in a division that I recently saw labelled the ‘Fizzy Pop League’ on one forum. The Championship is not a joke, but it is a long way from the Champions League, England, and  Brazil 2014.

Yes Carroll has potential, bags of it, and his stunning performance against Villa seemed to back up the belief, cited by Chris Hughton among others last season, that he is really starting to live up to it. But comparisons to Shearer will only have a negative effect. People will begin to expect him to score goals every week, and will start to ignore other aspects of his game.

In reality Carroll is less of a Shearer and more of a Crouch, or (with no insult whatsoever intended) an Emile Heskey with much more ability to hit a barn door with a banjo. There are many dimensions to his game, and while he will undoubtedly score goals, other qualities are equally key. In fact it was his awareness of team-mates and ability to bring them into play that was hailed as his best attribute by Gianluigi Buffon, who knows a fair few things about what it takes to be a top international striker having eyeballed a number of them from the Italy goal. Carroll is undoubtedly one of the best young English strikers around. If he has a good season in the Premiership this year then we can justifiably drop the ‘young’ from that title.

But let’s not put too much pressure on him too early. Wayne Rooney will tell you that even the greatest strikers have goal droughts. Comparing Carroll to the iconic Shearer only sets him up for a bigger fall when the same thing happens to him. Let’s leave him alone, let him play his game, and see where we are the end of the season. For England’s sake, let’s hope we see some more performances like the one against Villa on Saturday.

Then, in the future, we may stop thinking of him as ‘the new Alan Shearer’, and rather consider him ‘the current Andy Carroll’.

Written By Gareth Roberts

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