We can only guess how many people simultaneously opened Andy Carroll’s Wikipedia page to check his goal record when he tweeted that he was ‘still the 15-20 goal man!’ and then spluttered as the statistics confirmed what they suspected: Carroll had only once been a 15-20 goal man, seven seasons ago in the Championship. Isn’t it hilarious that a man close to turning 28 still thinks he can deliver like his 20-year-old self? Isn’t it funny that Carroll calls himself West Ham’s ’15-20 goal man’ when he has played fewer than half their Premier League games since he signed for £15m?
Actually no, it’s pretty sodding tragic.
You can laugh – and people have, heartily – but Carroll has to believe that he is still capable of 15 goals a season because the alternative is to curl up in a ball and cry, to accept that he is no longer a functioning footballer, to join Dean Ashton on a list of ‘if only’ strikers betrayed by their brittle bodies. For Carroll to begin yet another rehabilitation, he must believe that he will a) recover and b) deliver. The problem now might be that he is the only one who still believes.
“Andy is Andy. He’s dedicated now to training, to everything. It’s a big blow for us, a big question mark also, and big frustration with these things that are happening to him. The worst situation is when you plan, then you can’t count on him. All the time.”
Even written down, you can hear the impatience in Slaven Bilic’s words. Andy is Andy. All the time. And this is a man exasperated after just one season of managing Carroll in which he started just 13 Premier League games; he is already bored of the cycle of injury, rehabilitation, promise from the bench, goals from the pitch, feverish press calls for an England recall, injury again. Maybe Bilic’s exasperation has been exacerbated by persistent injuries to his other striking options, but he sounds ready to wash his hands of Carroll. Andy may be the best header in the Premier League bar Zlatan but Andy is Andy; there’s no point owning a powerful car if there’s no steering wheel.
There was a time when sympathy for Carroll would have been in short supply, when on an assault charge for glassing a man in a nightclub, when Steven Taylor had a broken jaw mysteriously simultaneous to Carroll’s hand injury, when forced to live with Kevin Nolan after an accusation of assault against an ex-girlfriend, when Fabio Capello said he needed to “drink less” and when Sam Allardyce said he “treats life too casually”. Carroll was cast as the immature troublemaker, half-p***ed and always up for aggro in the Bigg Market of life.
“Andy Carroll could be an ever better player if he pushed himself and put the work in. He tells you he does – but he doesn’t always do it,” said Allardyce, who was perpetually frustrated with Carroll long before Bilic wearily took up the mantle. Both have talked extensively of a career potentially ‘wasted’ and it’s clear in the current Hammers’ manager’s words – “he’s dedicated now to training, to everything” – that something, somewhere has sunk in. The tearaway always just one more pint away from a fight is now the doting father in bed by ten.
The sad thing is that having finally changed his mind, Carroll is still being let down by a body that will never change. All the time. This particular joke just isn’t funny anymore.