What next for Liverpool FC’s ‘unwanted man’?

Andy Carroll, West Ham United

It didn’t take long for Liverpool loanee Andy Carroll to remind West Ham United fans what they’d been missing upon his recent return to the side.

Making what was only his first start since November following a knee injury, Carroll marked his return to Sam Allardyce’s team with a trademark-thumping header, in what turned out to be the winner during the Hammers’ 1-0 win over Swansea City.

Yet in doing so, not only did Carroll help end a drastically poor spell of form for his team, he also managed to put away his first goal of the calendar year – which coincidentally saw him double his tally for the Premier League season so far.

To look so sneeringly at Andy Carroll’s scoring record is of course offering an extremely superficial judgment on a season that’s been plagued by disruption and it’s worth noting that when the former Newcastle United man has played in between injuries, the team has generally tended to do quite well.

Sam Allardyce’s side have picked up 17 points in the 12 games that Carroll has featured in since making his loan move from Liverpool during the summer, with three of the five defeats coming against the likes of Spurs, Arsenal and Manchester United. While Carroll might not necessarily have been putting the goals away himself, the team certainly seems to benefit in his presence.

And that feeling of collective worth has generally been the positive theme that’s underwritten Carroll’s time in claret and blue, when he’s not been stuck on the treatment table.

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Allardyce’s team don’t play with the sort of archaic one dimension that many would have them down as, although the ex-Bolton manager’s philosophy certainly verges on the pragmatic and Carroll has been the focal point of much that’s been good about West Ham term. He may not be making many personal gains, but his presence and physicality has opened plenty of doors for those around him.

Yet for all the positives that Carroll has brought to this side and for all the benefits that his teammates reap from his place in the starting line up, as a striker, his job first and foremost is to score goals. And he’s not done that consistently for over the best part of two years now.

You have to go back to when the 24-year-old was still wearing a Newcastle shirt for the last time he showed anything resembling a hot-streak in front of goal. His problems at Liverpool have been well documented but the school of thought was that once Carroll was placed within a set-up catered for his needs, the goals might start flowing again.

In Allardyce, Carroll has found a manager not just happy to cater to those needs but seemingly willing to build his side around him. Yet despite his aforementioned injury issues, even when he has been starting games, rarely has Carroll given the impression that he’s a man ready to make any drastic changes to his waning goal scoring record.

With 13 games left of the season to play, there’s adequate time for Carroll to start racking up a steady slew of goals and considering that the big England international was still someway short of match sharpness against Swansea, the fact he’s already netted upon his return to the side bodes well for supporters. But what happens in regards to his future at the end of the season remains somewhat hazy.

Sam Allardyce has made no secret of his desire to make Carroll’s loan spell at the club permanent but although it’s hard to imagine the striker going goalless from now until the end of the season, should he fail to pick up his goalscoring form, the club are going to be left in a difficult situation.

Despite recently acknowledging Carroll’s difficult season both with injury and front of goal, he recently stated his belief that a ‘settled future’ might have the ability to change all that. But with their first-refusal option from Liverpool reported to be just under the £17million mark, investing such a huge outlay on a player that could have been out of goalscoring form for nearly two-and-a-half years come the summer, could be a very big risk indeed.

Given his injury issues this year, you’d imagine there might be room for negotiation within West Ham’s option to buy the striker and Allardyce’s musings that signing the striker would be a ‘long process’ suggests that the club probably isn’t going to pay what still feels like a king’s ransom for the man who once cost £35million.

For the player himself, too, the prospect of staying at West Ham past this season might not be quite the banker for success that some may think.

The effectiveness of Allardyce’s set-up when Carroll’s in the team isn’t in any doubt, but while it may suit the team as a whole, it might not necessarily be one that bears endless amount of fruit for the man at the centre of it. Carroll’s heading ability helps his teammates out in defence as much as it does to those running on to his knock-ons up front.

Although in a system that sees the England international often isolated high up the pitch on his own, it remains to be seen whether he’s really capable of frequently scoring within this Sam Allardyce-backed team. He’d certainly find a lot more in the way of attacking support up at Newcastle United, but it remains cloudy as to whether a move back to St. James’ Park is realistically feasible for all parties involved.

Either way, both club and player have some very pressing decisions to make come the end of the season. Andy Carroll’s form between now and May could play a big part in where he eventually ends up. But should he make a move to Upton Park stick this summer, you imagine all involved are going to have indulge in a little compromise.

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