Andy Carroll says he never 'got a chance' at Anfield
Andy Carroll is off to the theatre this week. “I love going to the shows,” he says, leaning back in a chair at West Ham United’s training ground.
“The Book of Mormon, Ghost, I’m going to see Ghost Stories now. I don’t know if you have heard of it?” I have.
At the end of the production there is an announcement that asks the audience to “keep the secrets of Ghost Stories” while the play’s narrative remains closely guarded. All the publicity shots show the faces of the audience, not what happens on the stage.
This, however, his first major interview, is an opportunity for Carroll to open up.
To be less closely guarded himself. His narrative needs to be told – his feelings on his much-debated career, his troublesome reputation, the injuries that have left him feeling “devastated” and the record fees he has commanded.
The 25-year-old still has the tag of being the most expensive English footballer to have lived, having moved from Newcastle United to Liverpool for £35 million. Then came another record switch, a £16 million transfer to West Ham, the largest in the club’s history.
Carroll confronts Liverpool on Sunday and while he is clear that he wants his old side to win the Premier League title – “I hope they do it” – there will be be no margin for sentiment when the teams meet at Upton Park.
There is, even, a sense of trepidation at Liverpool at what the powerful, lean and fit-again striker might achieve against them. Should they be worried? “I think they should be,” Carroll immediately shoots back, his gaze hardening.
Seriously? “Yes, I think they should be worried. I’m looking forward to it. Looking forward to that whistle going. On the form that they are I can’t wait to try and get a result against them.”
It is not said in any sense of seeking revenge; Carroll is clear on that. But he is also clear that, having joined Liverpool from Newcastle, in a whirl of activity on deadline day January 2011, with Fernando Torres sold to Chelsea for £50 million and Luis Suárez also arriving at Anfield, that he was never “given a real go at it”.
“I came out of a dressing room at Newcastle where everyone was close, like here [West Ham], and then to go into that dressing room, at that time, when it was the opposite...” Carroll pauses. “I didn’t know where I stood, whether I would play, whether if I did well or scored I’d be in the next week or not.
"I didn’t know what was happening. It was difficult and upsetting; being there and not knowing what was happening.
“I was in one game, out three games, back in for one so it was stop-start constantly and I never really got going.
"Obviously I never knew my place when Kenny Dalglish got sacked. Coming back, I thought I’d had a good season, I ended the season with a few goals and was told by Brendan Rodgers that me and Suárez could be the partnership upfront.
“And then I was told: ‘Ah, you’d better leave.’ So I didn’t know whether I was coming or going. It was disappointing. I knew I had to play football and I wasn’t going to put up with: ‘You are, you aren’t, you are, you aren’t.’
“I had to make the move and I could not have moved to a better club. When I was on [a season-long] loan here at West Ham I knew it was the team that I wanted to come and play for. It was just unlucky that I got injured when I did and I just can’t wait for the future now.”
That injury has hit Carroll hard, not least because of its peculiarity. He suffered a double rupture of the plantar fascia in his right foot. They are the tendons that run through the arch of the foot, connecting the heel to the toes. Carroll tore the lateral one, on the outside of his foot during the last game of last season and then tore the medial one, on the inside.
“I had to go abroad,” Carroll says, recalling the intensive treatment he received after growing frustrated as recovery deadlines were missed.
“I kept asking the physios: ‘How long?’ and we kept going past this date, past that date. It was getting frustrating. The season started and I was thinking: ‘But this was supposed to be the season when I kicked on,’ and it didn’t happen like that.
“Not many people had seen this injury in England. It was a weird one because of the style of player I am, jumping a lot. It’s an injury that no one really knew how to rehab so I went to see specialists in Amsterdam and in Belgium.”
The pain in his foot, Carroll admits, was indescribable. He almost shudders at the memory.
“It hurt so much,” he says. “Waking up every morning, each time I took a step I could feel it. I was saying to some of the lads on the phone: ‘I just don’t feel this pain is ever going away.’ ”
Thankfully, it did. But Carroll still, as a matter of habit, goes through the same intensive regime of core strengthening, weights and working on the muscles in his foot that he carried out in his exhaustive recovery. It means hour-long gym sessions before and after training, which Carroll embraces.
“I’ve done it for so long that I just do it. I try and forget the injuries I have had but I have had some weird ones. The plantar fascia. Why? How? It’s a rare injury. My thigh. It wasn’t just a normal thigh strain when I signed for Liverpool it was something different. Everything just seemed complicated. I’ve just been unlucky, I feel.”
Unlucky and, also, a little bit misunderstood. The scrapes in Carroll’s life are well-chronicled - a police caution in 2008, a conviction for common assault in 2010, a charge for assaulting an ex-girlfriend later that year that was eventually dropped.
Former England manager Fabio Capello told him to curtail his drinking habits and he does not duck the perception.
“There were a lot of incidents that happened over a period of time,” Carroll admits.
“Silly, stupid incidents that I shouldn’t have been involved in, to be honest. It’s completely not me, not at all.
"People think that because of the things that happened I’m ‘this and that’ but I don’t feel I am like that at all. I don’t think anyone who knows me thinks that, anyone in the dressing room thinks that, anyone at this club thinks that.
“People outside have read things, maybe don’t know the full story, or what I am like as a person. It doesn’t really affect me but it probably does affect my family because they know the person I am. It is disappointing for them.
"When I was coming through at Newcastle I guess there were a lot of jealous people, people who tried to provoke me and getting me involved in things I shouldn’t have been involved in. Since I have left there everything has been great. I was young and naïve really.”
Fatherhood – Carroll has two children, a daughter Emilie Rose, aged four, and a two-year-old son, Lucas – has matured him, as did the moves to Liverpool and subsequently West Ham.
Certainly, his description of his average day does not suggest here is some kind of pony-tailed hell-raiser.
“People say: ‘Well, what do you do then?’ But I will just go home, sit, chat, have a coffee, watch the world go by and then suddenly it’s 9pm at night and time for bed.”
Carroll is obsessive about his own career but he is not a football obsessive. He confesses to not actually watching matches not involving West Ham.
“I will watch them if I’m at Kev [Nolan’s] house. He’s completely different. He watches everything,” he says of his friend and West Ham captain, who he references as if they were an old married couple.
“We talk a lot, we do argue a lot,” Carroll says. “I disagree with a lot of things he has to say and he disagrees with me. That’s probably why we do get on so well. I think I’m right, he thinks he’s right.”
They are business partners, too. Carroll, Nolan and West Ham team-mates James Collins, Joey O’Brien, Mark Noble and Joe Cole all have shares in a restaurant – 59 New Street – in Chelmsford, Essex along with the club and England chef Tim De’ath, who naturally oversees the menu.
It is a relaxation. “When I leave the training ground I just completely switch off from football,” Carroll says. “When I come into training I completely focus on training. Soon as I leave I focus on families and friends.”
There is one exception. “The only games I watch are our games - whether I am playing or not playing. I will watch it and then watch it back. I will be at the game and have it recorded, or get the DVD and watch it again.
“I want to know things. I want to watch the way we play. I watch us, not anyone else, so when people talk about this player doing this, that player doing that, I’m like...” The sentence peters out with a shrug of the shoulders.
That obsession extended to when he was doing his rehabilitation in Antwerp.
“When I was in Belgium they would say: ‘You have to come in on a Saturday,’ and I’d say: ‘Well we’ve got a game so I will come in at 6am.’ So I went in at 6am [in Antwerp]. Did my training and then went straight to the airport, flew over to watch the game, and then flew back to be ready the next day for more rehab. It was hard being away so even being with the lads for half a day before and after the game helped.”
Now he is fit, Carroll is relishing life once again. “I feel unbelievable. My fitness is great, it feels like the beginning of the season and yet there are only six games left which is devastating.
“It’s so frustrating. I’ve just wanted to get back involved and now that I am I just don’t want it to end. I feel fresh, I feel ready. At the end of the season it won’t be enough for me.”
Liverpool could feel the backlash. “There are no regrets,” Carroll says. “I wish it had gone better but it didn’t and I have to move on from it. I feel like I am a better person and a better player for what happened there.”
And there could, just, be a twist in the narrative on Sunday.