If ever there was an enigma to rule all enigmas at West Ham, Andy Carroll would be up there.
The club’s history is almost dominated by players who arrived, showed some promise, did some amazing things, didn’t do half as much as their talent promised and then left in a cloud of disappointment, shaped in the age old question: ‘What could’ve been?’
The Big Man, as he was affectionately known throughout his seven years in claret and blue, was superb on his day.
He was a wrecking ball up front, a complete and utter nuisance to any defender he faced.
But unfortunately, his days were sporadic and inconsistent due to his consistent ability to pick up injuries. When he arrived at the club, on loan from Liverpool in 2012, there was a sense of excitement among the fans.
We’d just been promoted and now had a player leading the line who had been signed by Liverpool for £35m only a few years earlier and already proved he can score goals when used correctly in the top-flight. It really was a promising moment for the club.
Seven goals in 24 appearances in his first season wasn’t the return many of us were expecting from Carroll but we were all eager for him to stay.
There was just something about him we all liked. His ability to win every single aerial duel underlined
West Ham United under Sam Allardyce, and at this point we hadn’t quite yet grown tired of Big Sam’s style. If anything, we were craving more.
So Carroll made his loan move permanent for £15m, which even now looks like an absolute steal. Although it would take a full five more seasons for us to see it that way.
The Big Man’s next two seasons were hampered by injury. He made just 32 appearances in all competitions between 2013/14 and 2014/15, scoring seven goals.
Those were his two most frustrating seasons in east London, when his age, ability and importance to the team were all at their peak. Yet he spent the majority of those two years sidelined with ankle and knee injuries.
Beyond that, he did manage to improve his fitness and in 2015/16 made 32 appearances in all competitions but could only manage nine goals, including that hat-trick against Arsenal in a 3-3 Boleyn Ground classic.
By now, Big Sam had left under a cloud of boredom and Slaven Bilic had arrived in a ray of excitement and playfulness.
The club was embarking on a new era inside the London Stadium and it had a fit Andy Carroll, ready and prepared to help it fulfil all those promises the club made to us expectant fans.
But it just never happened. Not for Andy Carroll and definitely not for West Ham United. By the time Carroll was released at the end of his contract in the summer of 2019, he’d made just 54 more appearances and scored just 11 more goals, to take his complete West Ham record to 142 appearances and 34 goals. In seven seasons.
That’s an average of 20 appearances and four goals a season, which actually doesn’t look too bad when broken down like that. Especially compared to some of the other strikers we’ve had on our books over the years.
But the reality is, Carroll’s West Ham career had the potential to be great. It had the potential to be heroic. He had the ability to become one of the great strikers of a generation in claret and blue.
Many would dismiss that opinion because of what they remember his Hammers career to be, which essentially was just one massive injury.
But he’s one of the best aerial threats we’ve ever had at the club and if it weren’t primarily for injuries and also Big Sam’s eventual departure, I have absolutely no doubt he would now be the club’s leading scorer in Premier League history and would be remembered as a hero.
Instead, he left the club having never realised his true potential.
The fact is, injury will forever underline Carroll’s career, which is a great shame. He provided us with some wonderful moments throughout his time.
The aforementioned hat-trick against Arsenal, that bicycle-kick against Crystal Palace, the way he used to always score against Swansea, the winner against Chelsea in his first game back after nine-months out, all those drunken nights out in Loughton with Kevin Nolan, James Collins and co.
They were great times, but it could’ve and should’ve been so much better. In seven years at the club, the Big Man was sidelined for approxi- mately 1,250 days and around 150 games.
He missed more games than he appeared in and spent almost three-and-a-half years injured. That’s pretty tragic when you think about it.
Now he’s back where it all began for him at Newcastle, our opponents later this month, and suffering the exact same fate.
He’s been back there for one-and-a-half seasons and has already spent around 300 days injured. Not the boyhood hero return he or the Geordie fans were hoping for.
Before he arrived at West Ham, Carroll had missed just one Liverpool game through injury in three years, but the weight of expectation of a £35m transfer fee prevented him from being an Anfield success.
That’s why a move to West Ham was so perfect for him at the time. But he was bitten by the West Ham injury curse and he was never able to recover.
I’ll always fondly remember Carroll’s time at the club, because while it was so frustrating to see him constantly crocked, the few special moments he did give us fans massively outweigh that. £15m really was a bargain now, when you think about it.