Andy Carroll: People think I want to be injured but I'm back, fully fit and up for the fight
‘As soon as Koscielny came through and caught me with an elbow or whatever, I was just up for it, I felt I was in a game’
In a quiet room at West Ham's training ground, long after his team-mates have left for home, Andy Carroll is recalling the best moments of that swashbuckling eight-minute hat-trick against Arsenal that announced his spectacular return to form.
The goals, of course, were wonderful but one memory from last Saturday that stands out for Carroll was when Laurent Koscielny's elbow connected with him in the first minute and, so to speak, a light went on in the Englishman's mind.
That elbow told him the lines were drawn, the battle was on. For a man who relishes the combative side of the game, Carroll says there is no better feeling.
"It is something I really like. It is better when it happens. I just feel like I am in a game. If they don't touch me I have to go and find it.
"As soon as Koscielny came through and caught me with an elbow or whatever, I was just up for it. I felt I was in a game. He caught me again just after and a few more through the game.
"There was a foul on Gabriel and then he kicked me. It is all part of the game and it is something that I enjoy.
"It feels like I am in a battle. Soon as the game is finished, it is fine and we shake hands.
"It's my job and, the way I am. It is part of my game. I buzz off it.
"Even when someone takes me out, I don't mind it because I know I will do it back to them. It's not something I do maliciously, I'm trying for the ball and I know that I will go through them if I need to. . . and I like it when they do it to me."
His career may have been interrupted too many times by injury but Carroll, at 27, and five years on from that British record-breaking £35m transfer, is a man who is at ease with the footballer he has become.
He asks no quarter, he gives none, and it will be the same tonight when Slaven Bilic will surely select his Newcastle-born centre-forward for West Ham's long-awaited FA Cup sixth-round replay against Manchester United at the Boleyn Ground.
Louis van Gaal has already said that his United defence must deal with Carroll if they are to prevail, which invites the question whether the centre-forward is, at his rampaging best, unplayable?
"I like to say that if the ball comes in the box I feel I am favourite," he says. "I don't think that anyone else is going to get it - so, if that is unplayable, I am unplayable."
The great heading ability is a consequence, he says, of years of practice in the garden with his father, who would throw the ball in the air for his son to hone his technique.
If only life as a professional had been so simple: the last four years at West Ham have been difficult, with that 6ft 3in frame struck down by a bewildering variety of injuries, from a problem between knee and thigh, to a ruptured plantar fascia (foot) and damaged medial knee ligaments.
"A lot of people think that I actually want to be injured," Carroll says. "The way people talk, 'Oh, he's injured again. Oh, he's doing this'. I certainly don't want to be injured.
"I know it's a job but it's my hobby as well. I want to be on the pitch playing football. I don't want to be sitting in the gym being annoyed or going home and watching football on TV.
"I enjoy coming into training every day, being on the pitch with the lads, the banter. When you are sitting in the gym it really is depressing and puts you down. It is something that - fingers crossed - never happens again. It's the worst part of it."
The question has been asked, even by Bilic last Saturday, as to whether Carroll can now keep himself fit and fulfil the rich promise that emerged at Newcastle United seven years ago.
For Carroll, it is straightforward: he says he lives his life sensibly with fiancée Billi Mucklow, a reality TV star, and their son Arlo, and he sees a lot of his two children from his previous relationship, Emilie-Rose and Lucas.
"I don't understand how your lifestyle can prevent a plantar fascia injury or one of the weird ones I have had in the past," he says.
"I don't really know that. I feel my life outside football is good. It's very unlucky what has happened with injuries.
"Obviously with fate it just happens. That is what goes on."
Carroll's record of injuries has been challenging, to say the least - especially the plantar fascia rupture, an injury to the arch of the foot to which he lost seven months in 2013, including the chance to play for England that May, the last squad for which manager Roy Hodgson selected him.
"The plantar fascia is not an injury anyone knows about," Carroll says. "They don't know how to treat it and the injury time is prolonged. It's just a nightmare. It's a weird thing. Hopefully it's all in the past.
"There is a lot of rehab when you are injured. I travelled to Belgium. I stayed there for four weeks. I was in Amsterdam for three weeks. I was working 9am-5pm with a two-hour break every day. It's tough. It is a very dark place when you are injured. Lonely. I was there by myself. Now I am through it and hopefully it is all gone."
Carroll has been fit since January and, while he can make no guarantees, he feels that he has overcome his worst problems.
He is a remarkable specimen, with height and power - broad-shouldered but not bulky. Yet, for all his strength, that he is also vulnerable.
"I have conversations with the physios. . . some of my tackles, the way I run and turn and twist, my legs go into places where they shouldn't because of the muscle length.
"Whether it's that or me just throwing myself about too much, I don't really know. You don't see the smaller players getting these kind of problems. It's obviously part of my build. It's just how I am."
Four years ago, Carroll won a League Cup with Liverpool and scored in the FA Cup final against Chelsea, in which his substitute's performance very nearly rescued the game for Kenny Dalglish's team.
It led to his inclusion in the squad for Euro 2012, where he scored against Sweden and was first choice until Wayne Rooney returned from injury.
Carroll wants to be in Hodgson's Euro 2016 squad. He believes he can convince the England manager over the next five weeks and dismisses the notion that his style is incompatible with the refereeing standards at international tournaments, pointing out that he is always making adjustments.
"You have to be a bit more clever. Some of the challenges and the way I throw my body around in the Premier League wouldn't work on an international stage.
"It's all about being clever. Even in the Premier League you know which refs you will get away with it and which ones won't."
For a moment he is imagining the mayhem he could wreak on some famous defenders this summer in France.
But, first, there is the small matter of tonight's showdown with United. (© Daily Telegraph, London)