The Andy Carroll Goldilocks dilemma

The silly season is supposed to end when the football starts. The silly stories are only supposed to happen when there’s nothing else to talk about, but the transfer window creates an amplification for the strange stories, and it’s hard to tell the difference between the strangest stories and the real ones when it comes to players moving clubs.

Maybe that’s yet another part of why there have been repeated calls to close the transfer window before the season actually starts.

One of the more recent strange stories involves Andy Carroll, who has been linked with a move away from West Ham, though perhaps more in terms of thought pieces than any real concrete interest. It’s been Newcastle United and Everton, where pundits like Ian Wright think Carroll would fit best.

There’s nothing particularly strange about such stories in a way. Carroll is clearly quite a prolific Premier League striker, and such players usually come at a premium. And it’s also the case that West Ham seem to be planning more and more for life without him. And so it might, on some level make sense for the striker to move.

The problem is, the two arguments as to why Carroll should leave shouldn’t be linked. But they are. The reason Carroll is ‘out of favour’ at West Ham is simply because Slaven Bilic can’t rely on his fitness in order to put him in the squad. If Carroll could stay fit, there’s a good argument to suggest that he’d be the first name on the teamsheet.

This is the problem, though. And it’s why stories about his departure are strange – West Ham surely can’t sell him for very much, and if that’s the case then why wouldn’t they just keep him?

When you build a squad, you look for two of every player, or at least the sorts of players who are versatile enough to fill in at a position where your squad is short. For West Ham, Javier Hernandez and Andy Carroll provide an almost ideal duo, giving different options off the bench depending on the opponent or the state of the game.

But Bilic can’t count Carroll as a second choice as he knows – or at least strongly suspects – that the striker won’t be fit enough for the whole season to count on. He’s more of an added extra, though. A player you’d like to have, but a player you can’t factor in – like the friend you’d love to have at your party, but who you know will usually make excuses not to come.

Perhaps that was the problem last season, as the Hammers really did attempt to factor him in.

Last year, it seemed as though Carroll was the first choice striker, and the other attackers were bought with the view to filling in when the England man was unfit. But that meant when Carroll was in contention for a starting place, he was usually given it, and perhaps not brought back to full fitness before playing.

That, you can understand. Last season’s horrifyingly jam-packed treatment room at West Ham meant it was all hands on deck, and the ability to bring in a striker like Carroll – a real, live goalscoring striker at West Ham – was clearly a big draw.

This year, though, Bilic has done the right thing. He’s brought in a first choice striker in Chicharito and relegated Carroll to the role of a man who may well be in the team if fit, but the team will carry on regardless if he’s not. A ‘major’ role, says Bilic. But just how major relies on Carroll himself.

In the end it all boils down to this: he shouldn’t be for sale because he’s too good, but he shouldn’t be factored into the starting XI plans because he’s too injured.

Whatever ‘major role’ Bilic has in mind will surely be attempting to hit the Goldilocks zone – something between reserve striker and first name on the teamsheet.