Dalglish puts faith in Carroll to deliver
Published 04/02/2011 | 05:00
Footballers no longer pose for photographs the way they once did.
Whenever Liverpool were due to play Spanish opposition someone would persuade Terry McDermott or Graeme Souness to slip on a sombrero -- they supplied their own moustaches. John Toshack and Kevin Keegan dressed up as Batman and Robin in support of headlines that proclaimed them Anfield's 'Dynamic Duo' with the inference that the Welshman was the senior partner.
Were this still 1976, someone in the stadium's Trophy Room would have asked Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez to don a miner's helmet and a poncho to show they came from Newcastle and Uruguay.
Instead, they walk in wearing tracksuits, which for young men is rather more likely leisurewear, whether on the banks of the Tyne or the Plate.
Between them they form a remarkable statement of intent in a January transfer window that for once has exceeded even the hyperbole of Sky Sports.
The £35m Kenny Dalglish paid Newcastle for Carroll is a thousand times more than the fee Bill Shankly offered Scunthorpe for Keegan in 1971.
"Robbery with violence," Shankly called it, which is one of the few things Carroll has not been accused of during his turbulent few years at St James' Park.
"I know I have been in the headlines for the wrong reasons," he said. "When I have been travelling to Sunday games reading the papers on the way and looking at the headlines..."
He doesn't need to finish the sentence before adding with a shy, charming smile. "But then I've gone and scored the winner at Arsenal."
Nobody doubts Carroll's ability. It seems appropriate that in the same month they buried Nat Lofthouse, a rugged, muscular English centreforward, an heir to Alan Shearer should become his country's most expensive footballer.
But there are some who think it a lot for a 22-year-old who has played half a season of Premier League football and whose life away from St James' Park deteriorated to the extent that a court ordered him to live with his club captain and best friend Kevin Nolan.
Liverpool did not need much selling, but Nolan, one of many footballers to have grown up in Toxteth, was a source of support before on a frantic transfer deadline day, he found himself in a helicopter belonging to the Newcastle owner Mike Ashley flying to Merseyside.
Even with someone with a centre-forward's natural confidence, it would have been a daunting journey.
Carroll had watched the last seasons of Shearer's career from the Milburn Stand. He knew what the No 9 shirt meant at St James' Park and he had steeled himself to go into the manager's office and ask Chris Hughton for it. Had he stayed on Tyneside, his status as a local hero would have been guaranteed. But Carroll wanted something more.
Liverpool and Newcastle are football cities; enclosed, tribal places, where a footballer is the highest form of celebrity. Only in silverware do they differ.
"I am aware the spotlight's on me," he said. "Given the money Liverpool have spent, whoever it was they bought was going to be followed around. I know they will be watching me. I am aware of that. I have to deal with it and take it in my stride.
"Newcastle was my home town. I loved it and I loved the fans. I am a working-class lad; I like going for a pint now and again, but that's who I am and I am not really going to change."
"Glasgow, Newcastle and Liverpool are very, very similar," said Dalglish who has worked in all three.
"The history of the places themselves, the shipyards, the people, the fanaticism towards their football clubs. Andy is coming to similar surroundings to where he was brought up.
"It is a difficult thing to leave your home city and at 22 it will be massive for him. Apart from his ability as a footballer, what will be endearing to our supporters will be his innocence, his youth. They will accept him as one of their own.
"I'll tell you one thing, it is a sign of the boy's strength of character that he took the No 9 shirt at Newcastle -- the one Shearer wore. Nine at Newcastle is iconic.
"How good is he going to be? I don't know, but right at this particular moment in time I would say he is as good as anyone who could play for England. We hope he improves and develops even further and, if he does, we have a real player."
Dalglish has a recurring image playing through his mind of the Geordie.
He sees the ball dropping from the sky at the Kop end of Anfield and being met by a powerful, pony-tailed No 9.
Pass and move will always be the Liverpool Way while Dalglish is in the building, but the manager knows variety helps.
As a teenage trialist at Anfield, Dalglish watched Roger Hunt. He partnered John Toshack. He bought Alan Shearer at Blackburn Rovers. As a player and manager, Dalglish appreciates the value of a good target man like Carroll.
With the more rapier-like thrusts of Suárez combining with Carroll's broadsword, Dalglish has sharpened Liverpool's cutting edge. Now he just needs Carroll to shake off a thigh injury.
"I am desperate to see him because I want to see one hung up in the box, in front of the Kop, and him charging in on a header," Dalglish said.
"I'd love to be inside the mind of the defender who is standing underneath it, waiting for it to come in, waiting for Andy to plough over the top of him." (© Independent News Service)