The striker did not justify his £35m transfer fee with a struggling display against Sunderland
In January's great striker sale, £85m worth of goalscoring talent passed through Anfield. Fernando Torres went out for £50m and Andy Carroll came in to break the record fee for an English footballer. There is no certainty of a return on either splurge.
Starting a new campaign in the No9 jersey, Carroll was sometimes lumbering, off-target with his heading and often loose in his distribution of the ball. This is not to say that the £35m bank-transferred from Liverpool to Newcastle United is already burning around the edges. Plenty of good judges say this giant pony-tailed bruiser is England's next top-class centre-forward. But already we see that his evolution from home-town prodigy to big-stage star is going to be more complicated than Kenny Dalglish might have liked.
Dalglish's faith in Carroll expressed more than a desire to hit straight back after Torres fled to Chelsea. His acquisition was no desperate grab at the nearest available tool. But as Dalglish's predecessor, Roy Hodgson, is fond of saying, "you can lead a player to water but you can't make him drink". Carroll, not Dalglish, is the ultimate master of his own destiny, and to fulfil his potential he will need to practise dedication as well as knocking opponents out of the way.
From the pictures and general reports, it would be fair to say the £35m man didn't spend his summer at a yoga retreat. Not that he returned to training fat or dissolute. The point is that at this high level every nuance is visible, on and off the pitch. His huge price tag intensifies the scrutiny, especially here at Anfield, where Carroll's shortage of speed across the pitch and lack of accuracy stood out in a Liverpool display featuring intermittently bright contributions from Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing.
Dominant for one half, Liverpool lost rhythm and purpose after the interval. There were league debuts for Adam, Downing, Jordan Henderson and José Enrique, the new left-back who spent much of the game taking positional lectures from Jamie Carragher. As the young right-back, John Flanagan, began to struggle against Sunderland's Sebastian Larsson, Henderson failed to impose himself and Luis Suárez (the first-half goalscorer) started to tire following his exertions at the Copa América, it fell to Carroll to seize the narrative in classic Anfield fashion, but the task was beyond him.
Liverpool's injured captain, Steven Gerrard, can explain the special expectations that all players carry into combat here. In adversity, the top names are meant to make the difference. Starting alongside Suárez in a 4-4-2 formation, Carroll was expected to be the beneficiary of Downing's arrival on the flank. In the most obvious analysis he would mooch around the box waiting for Downing to locate his forehead. Rarely will it be that simple. The modern striker is no static finisher.
Mobility is the religion, and Carroll's handicap is that his size can make him appear laboured at full gallop. Some of this may be attributable to a lack of match-sharpness. To acquire that he will have to stay fit, eager, and attentive to the wisdom Dalglish and his coaching staff impart on the training ground.
The Carroll-Suárez partnership is certainly promising. "Andy came to the club injured and he's a lot fitter now. Those two will be all right," Dalglish said in the wake of Larsson's acrobatic equaliser. Alan Shearer, who managed Carroll for eight games at Newcastle, says: "He will get better. He will score goals as well because he's not frightened to miss. That's very important in a striker.
"You can see strikers who shirk away because they're frightened to miss chances because of the reaction, not only of their own players but the crowd as well. He's not bothered about that, which is a great sign. You can see strikers who miss a chance and don't want to get in there for another in case they miss again. He's not like that."
Immunity to crowd pressure is an asset in these parts. Liverpool started the campaign cheerily. Not every Kopite is yet convinced by the new signings, but there is an authentic sense of stability and renewal.
Henderson started ahead of Dirk Kuyt, the warhorse in residence, but will need to offer more to keep his place. There is little of the outside-right about Henderson, so picking him on the flank may be Dalglish's way of handling an excess of central midfielders. Nor could Raul Meireles claim a first XI jersey here. When Gerrard returns the surfeit in the centre will grow. Dalglish's challenge is to find a shape that best accommodates these individual assets; and plans B and C for when things go wrong.
Chasing a winner, he tried several combinations against an increasingly assertive Sunderland: Downing in the hole with Kuyt right, then Downing right with Kuyt central and Meireles marauding on the left. In all this time (33 minutes, from Larsson's equaliser) Carroll remained willing but was unable to shake off Wes Brown, a Manchester United discard who displayed his latent class at centre‑half.
With nine minutes left, Carroll set off on a hopeful dribble but lost the ball and fell over. On the touchline Dalglish shook his head. Next weekend brings an opportunity for this £35m weapon to terrorise Arsenal's defence again in London.
There is a monster of a striker inside Andy Carroll. But only he can let it out.