On 30 August 2012, Andy Carroll signed on loan for West Ham United having been deemed as surplus to requirements at Liverpool. On his debut just two days later, the 23-year-old centreforward inspired his new team mates to play with incredible gusto, the like of which Hammers fans had seen so little of for too many years.
Since that moment – and, in fact, prior to Carroll first pulling on a claret and blue shirt – West Ham have been severely lacking in anything synonymous with gusto. The state of the current side does, therefore, beg the question: have the Irons become a one-man band? To begin answering that, we must first clarify what defines a ‘one-man band’ in the metaphorical sense in which it is bandied about by football fans. It is typically used as a label for a team that relies heavily on just one player to drag them through games and grab results – obviously something to be ashamed of in a team sport.
As an example, Liverpool have, in recent years, been labelled as a one-man band due to their reliance on Steven Gerrard’s talismanic presence. We can certainly vouch for his influence, citing the 2006 FA Cup Final as a case in point. Going along these lines, West Ham could be deemed as a one-man band now. We have, after all, been dragged through a game by Andy Carroll; the big man’s heavy influence in attack ensuring we secured a 3-0 victory against Fulham.
Furthermore, since that comprehensive victory, the Hammers have mustered just two goals in three games, creating chances but not having the conviction to convert them into goals – the kind of conviction that Carroll showed in abundance on his debut. Carlton Cole has been disappointing to say the least, and that is despite a huge amount of support from fans keen to fi ll the striker with the confidence that is essentially his lifeblood.
Summer signing Modibo Maiga has looked bright in spells, bagging a couple of goals in the League Cup, but he too seems unable to replicate the drive Carroll gave the entire team during his brief appearance. Some West Ham fans criticised the loan signing of Carroll as the final nail in the coffin for the ‘West Ham way’. Those naysayers purported that, with a big, traditional centreforward like Carroll up front, Big Sam’s long ball game would envelope West Ham’s style and reputation.
But, if anything, in the Fulham game West Ham played some of the best football on the deck that we have displayed for a number of seasons. This was possible because the Fulham defence was having to sit so deep in fear of lofted balls into Carroll being flicked on behind them, that they gave our midfield time and space to operate however they wanted to. And, as Gary Steer said in his feature in issue three of Blowing Bubbles, the balls into Carroll ‘were never aimless hoofs. They were precise and with conviction.’
So, although Carroll fi ts Allardyce’s style perfectly, his being at West Ham is not just a case of ‘square pegs for square holes’. His presence in the side seems to have a much more profound effect than simply providing a big target for Big Sam’s long balls. But, as impressive as he was, surely Carroll cannot be deemed as being so influential for West Ham that all our other players are rendered into insignificance?
The thought of West Ham being a one-man band becomes especially hard to digest when considering the excellent performances of players such as Winston Reid and Mohamed Diame, and Kevin Nolan’s goals. Reid has been the tireless beating heart in our defence and his displays have been of a very high standard. Even David Gold stopped to recognise his contribution to our season so far, tweeting: ‘I personally think that Winston Reid has been Awesome. DG’.
Having a defender that the chairman considers to be so good he calls him awesome with a (superfluous) capital A, goes some way toward negating the idea we could now be a one-man band. Adding to this we have Mohamed Diame, whose brutal power in the centre of the park against Aston Villa granted him instant cult status among Hammers fans. Diame was proving to be West Ham’s best summer acquisition until Carroll decided to stroll in with his pony-tail swinging. The exWigan man’s driving runs have proven to be a catalyst for many West Ham attacks and should continue to do so if he stays fi t. After all, who can stop him?
Another aspect of West Ham’s play that has been nice to see and will also hopefully continue is Kevin Nolan scoring goals. The captain’s form picked up towards the end of last season and that seems to have carried on through the summer. It should not be forgotten that, as well as Carroll, Reid, Diame and Nolan, we have players like Noble, Jarvis, Benayoun, Vaz Te and Matty Taylor. The latter group may not have quite settled into their best form yet this season, but it is still early days and they should improve as they get more games. This means West Ham have good foundations for a strong team – ‘team’ being the operative word.
Just because, in Carroll, West Ham now have a player with enough quality to propel us forward, does not mean we have stopped being a team that relies on every member to perform to the best of their ability. As the cliché goes: you’re only as strong as your weakest link. Plus, West Ham have relied on much more influential players than Carroll in the not too distant past. It is way too soon to properly compare the Geordie striker to them, but the likes of Di Canio, Tevez and Parker inspired West Ham in a similar manner to the way Carroll did against Fulham. That’s without even mentioning players like Vic Watson, Bobby Moore and Trevor Brooking.
So who really cares if we do become a one-man band? Just as long as that band can play Twist And Shout, I think we’ll all be happy Hammers.