We all love a carol at Christmas. Songs that unite us and lift us above ourselves into a collective celebration of the birth of a miraculous infant. However amongst the West Ham fan base, there is a Carroll that often divides and fragments our collective mindset as we contemplate the merits of his existence within our side.
As the January sales approach, we have, since he signed it seems, entered discussions about the merits of keeping or selling the striker. We have been left with little choice but to debate the paradoxical nature of the boy from Gateshead – the unplayable dominant beast that is made of glass.
Should we hold on to him for what he brings to the side when fit or sell him because he barely ever is? And if we do keep him, what role should he have given his fragile physical state? This debate is likely to only increase tenfold this winter as Carroll enters the last six months of his contract with the Hammers.
On the surface of things, this seems like a no brainer. Since signing permanently for £15 million for the 2013/14 season, Carroll has appeared 90 times in the league out of a possible 202 games, including the 12 we have played thus far this season.
That is 45 per cent of our games. It is also not unfair to say that a fair few of those appearances have been as a substitute and/or whilst he is still looking to regain match sharpness. So we have seen very little of a fully fit Andy Carroll. In those games he has scored 26 goals, which gives him an average of a goal every 3.5 games. For a player on wages believed to be north of 100K a week, this is hardly a prolific return for our considerable investment.
The sensible thing to do would be to cut our losses – sell him in January to anyone willing to part with money for him, or simply let him leave for nothing at the end of the season freeing up wages for a new, fitter striker. The problem is – there are very few, if any, strikers who offer what Andy Carroll does in the whole expanse of world football.
Carroll absolutely terrifies defenders. He is a bulldozer, willing to plough through bodies to get on the end of a cross or to hold the ball up to bring others into play. His ability to both operate and pose an attacking threat as a lone striker is almost unparalleled in the Premier League. This is made even clearer when watching Hernandez attempt to play the role with all the presence of a strawman in a hurricane.
And whilst The Big Man’s goal tally may not be that great, the panic he causes and the attention he draws from opposition defences means that he creates spaces and opportunities for others. It is perhaps no coincidence that the season in which Carroll featured the most (27 games/9 goals) was our most successful season in recent memory although the role of a certain Frenchman probably helped too.
On his day, he is a player that adds a different dimension to our attack. Or at least he was. Whilst results haven’t been as he would have wished so far, Manuel Pellegrini has definitely had an affect on our style of play. There have been clear attempts to get us on the front foot more whilst maintaining controlled possession of the football.
We often find ourselves having width provided by our fullbacks whilst our ‘inverted wingers’ tuck inside slightly, hoping to exploit the space left between opposing fullbacks and centre backs. The likes of Anderson, Diangana and Snodgrass will then look to thread balls through to Arnie. The days of getting it ‘in the mixer’ seem to slowly being edged out of our repertoire.
And whilst it may not have gone entirely from our game plan, it certainly isn’t plan A anymore, which may add gravitas to those calling for Carroll’s release. However there is a lot to be said for having an Andy Carroll-centred Plan B. Imagine, having had to cope with the pace, power and pure bastardry of Arnautovic for 65-70 minutes only to look over at the subs bench to see that Pellegrini is replacing one of our midfielders with Big Andy to go in search of a winner.
And that you’ve now got to cope with both of them as more and more balls are played up towards them and into the box. It would be enough to give defenders nightmares. But having Carroll as Plan B might be the stuff of dreams for us. So long as any new contract is related to appearances, it would seem foolish not to.