A great manager understands that criticism and pressure to play well affect a player more than they do a manager. For this reason, Kenny Dalglish has thrown himself in front of the criticisms that have been launched at Andy Carroll. In a recent interview, Dalglish said “[w]e pushed him in probably earlier than we should have last season and it wasn’t particularly fair on him.
This might be true. The full extent of Carroll’s injury and fitness last season is uncertain, but there is little doubt he was injured. And an injury affects more than just game performance. It affects a player’s ability to adequately train in practice. For these reasons, it is understandable that Carroll’s performances last year were not to the level expected of a £35 million striker.
But why is Dalglish bringing up last season’s performances by Carroll? Why is he explaining away the lackluster performances of a season that has come and gone? The true reason is that Dalglish sees the truth in Carroll today. Dalglish wants to keep the criticism down for as long as possible. The longer a striker fails to perform, the louder the criticism becomes. What Dalglish is trying to do is push the reset button on the clock that is tracking Carroll’s uninspired performances.
Dalglish can see that Carroll is not the difference-maker that Liverpool fans have longed for to spearhead the offense. It is not that Carroll is on the verge of a breakthrough. He is not making shots that are missing by inches. He is not being denied by brilliant goalkeeping. Carroll has had one real opportunity at a goal: his header against Arsenal. That is one opportunity in nearly 180 minutes of the new season.
Watch Carroll when he’s on the pitch. Watch how he moves when he has the ball. It is clear to anyone that Carroll lacks Suarez’s poise with the ball. In fairness, few can be said to possess the same ability and creativity that fans have seen in the Uruguayan. But if Carroll does not shoot or pass the ball by his second touch, he will have lost the ball. Perhaps this is rust that he will work off, or perhaps this doesn’t even matter. Given how strong Carroll is in the air, Liverpool hopes to provide service to him in the box. But shouldn’t Liverpool fans expect more than just headers out of a £35 million striker?
However, more importantly, and arguably more disconcertingly, watch how Carroll moves when he does not have the ball. He moves only in straight lines without any regard for the position of the defenders. He lacks the foresight or creativity to see the field and to see openings. Suarez moves with an almost preternatural awareness for where openings will form. Where Suarez creates those openings, Carroll merely hopes for them.
Dalglish states that the “best time to judge Carroll is when he’s fully fit.” Carroll’s performances thus far in the season may simply be a case of match fitness, not physical fitness, as Liverpool fans have been led to believe that Carroll is finally fit. Mental fitness is equally as important, and perhaps this is the area of development that Carroll needs to develop. But given how effective the Suarez/Kuyt partnership was as the last season wound down, how much time on the pitch should Carroll be allotted to reach this mental fitness?
The goal for Liverpool is to win games. £35 million is an expensive mistake, and it is admittedly too early to tell with certainty that it was a mistake. But fear of admitting the possibility of mistake is not enough to warrant putting in a striker that cannot score goals.
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