What to make of Andy Carroll?

West Ham striker Andy Carroll

With all the talk and controversy that’s surrounded Andy Carroll in the past couple of years, it is sometimes easy to forget just how young and inexperienced he actually is.

At 23 years of age, Carroll is the most expensive British player of all time. He has worn the famous number 9 shirt for his hometown club, been the subject of a £35million transfer to Liverpool, played for his country at a major tournament, and been a part of one of the most controversial and seemingly senseless transfer fiasco’s of all time, which saw him eventually join West Ham on loan.

It seems an awful lot for a player who’s in fact only made 68 Premier League appearances, with a large chunk of those  coming as a substitute, particularly for Liverpool. In that time Carroll has managed just 17 Premier League goals, with 11 coming during his spell at Newcastle between August and December 2010, which prompted Liverpool to make their outrageous bid in January 2011.

Carroll has managed just six Premier League goals since then, and is currently on a run of just one in his last 22 appearances, and is yet to get off the mark for his new club West Ham. The statistics do not make good reading, but as always only tell part of the story.

There have been a few murmurs of discontent surrounding Carroll and his failure to get off the mark from press and pundits, as will always be the case. The problem lies in the fact he will always be known as the ‘£35million striker’, which for a fee like that demands 20-plus goals a season.

Those expecting that from Carroll will be waiting for a long time, as he is simply not the sort of goal scoring centre forward everyone expects him to be. He’s still a young player, with time on his side to evolve and improve, but a return of 10-15 a goals a season is the maximum you can expect from him. The pressure of the ridiculous price tag Liverpool paid for him alongside injuries has hindered his progress, but his overall form has steadily improved.

The criticism aimed at Carroll when he first signed for Liverpool, was his lack of mobility. He looked sluggish, his touch was heavy, and his usual strength and power was often missing. It later became apparent that Carroll was still feeling the effects of the injury that he sustained while at Newcastle, and it wasn’t until Carroll was given playing time due to the eight game suspension handed to Luis Suarez that Liverpool fans started to understand why he was rated so highly.

From January onwards Carroll looked an entirely different player. Having been given a run of games to restore his fitness, he set about causing havoc among defenders, chasing lost causes, and creating chances for his teammates, which sadly for Liverpool were often spurned. His back to back performances against Chelsea in the FA Cup final, and the 4-1 Premier League victory were outstanding, and he looked every inch a top class centre forward.

The thing missing for Carroll was goals, and has sadly been the case since. He has managed six domestic goals since January, coming against the likes of Oldham and Brighton from the lower divisions, and Premier League strikes against relegated Wolves and Blackburn. His performance in the FA Cup final and for England during the Euros showed he has the ability to produce on the big stage, which is why Liverpool fans were so disappointed about the decision to send him on loan, just at the time he was starting to regain some confidence.

Since his arrival at West Ham, Carroll has looked hungry and eager to impress. His debut performance against Fulham was outstanding until he picked up a hamstring injury, which has only served to delay his progress further.

Since his return to action he has shown the desire to put himself about and impress, and the West Ham fans seem to have immediately taken to him. However you feel he needs a goal as quickly as possible to keep the critics off his back. Carroll looks very much a confidence player, and his desire to impress and win people over often leads to him rushing and over complicating things for himself.

It seems Sam Allardyce has set about getting back to basics and playing to his strengths. The pressure has eased considerably since his time at Liverpool, but he will undoubtably be desperate to end his goal drought. With his overall play being so much improved, you feel once the first goes in the floodgates could open. There are not many with the attributes Carroll possesses, the incredible strength, heading ability and hammer of a left foot. At 23-years-old he is still learning, and needs to be given time to bring all those attributes together. The signs have been there.

The crucial thing for Carroll now is that he continues doing the right things, and ignores those seemingly out to get him and who will constantly ridicule his price tag and goal scoring record. The sooner people understand what he is about and stop demanding him to be something than the player he actually is, everyone will see the best for him. And for West Ham and England, this is a very exciting thought.

What have you made of Andy Carroll’s form this season? Follow me on Twitter @LukeGreenwood89 and let me know your thoughts.