It takes a big man to admit when he’s completely, categorically incorrect.
Well, I came out with a bit of egg on my face after wrongly predicting that Liverpool would cling on to Fernando Torres until the end of the season. Taking into consideration Torres’ mediocre form this season, persistent nagging injuries, and desire to exit to what he essentially described as a better club, New England Sports Ventures wagged its tail at the £50 million bone waved in front of its face by Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and sent its star goal scorer packing last night.
Now, I’m not about to do a complete about-face on Torres, who I enjoyed watching immensely when he and Liverpool were both clicking, but that is a whole lot of quid ($80.6 million US, to be exact) to turn your back on, and I certainly understand the reasoning behind the move.
“El Niño” earned his nickname for a reason, but also has more wear-and-tear than a regular 26-year-old having featured in La Liga for Atletico Madrid at the tender age of 17. His propensity to fight through tackles rather than take a dive, and also to stick his nose where a proper striker must, can eventually catch up with a player (as we’ve seen recently in New England with Taylor Twellman). Perhaps, when taking personal emotion out of the picture, it was just the right time for Liverpool to cut its losses.
To the credit of John Henry and his band of cronies, they allowed Director of Football Strategy Damien Comolli and manager Kenny Dalglish to reinvest quite heavily, bringing in the brawny Andy Carroll from Newcastle to the tune of £35 million, making him the most expensive English footballer in history.
At 6-foot-3, Carroll is an even more strapping presence up front than Torres and should make up for inferior technical skill with his impressive aerial abilities. Tack that onto a nearly five-year age difference and the 22-year-old Carroll doesn’t look half bad in comparison. Comolli has a history of being able to pick the young ones, going back to his days at Arsenal and, more recently, Tottenham Hotspur, so there is at least some reason for optimism.
Still, the $56.5 million price tag attached is a bit heavy (and would be for any English striker not named Rooney), especially given Carroll’s lone season starting in the top flight. Although his current thigh injury is not believed to be of long-term concern, Reds fans still grimace when remembering the similar conditions in which Alberto Aquilani came to Anfield, fell on his face, and exited stage left. The risked attached to Big Andy is enormous, but the payoff could be just as big. Outside of Rooney, there isn’t another young forward in the country with more potential (albeit still largely unfulfilled), and the marketability of buying British could be just as big a boon as Torres’ arrival was in 2007.
The currency changing hands in the transfers of Torres and Carroll will put a magnifying glass on the situation until we know definitively how this one turns out. However, as with the big-money signing of Daisuke Matsuzaka by the Red Sox in 2006, NESV hedged its bets on this one, guarding against too big of a flop with the potential income a starlet like Carroll will bring with jersey and ticket sales as well as a swarm of pure, unadulterated media attention.
Two positives to keep in mind about NESV in its first transfer window in charge: 1) Despite cashing in on Torres, the new ownership managed to spend a net of $12.8 million on new players, a promising sign for the future and 2) They spent just about as smartly as you can in the price-inflated January climate, buying two younger players in Carroll and Luis Suarez, who should factor in as long-term parts and could also appreciate in value.
While it’s hard to find a soul that would fault the Suarez purchase, it seems feelings are mixed on whether Carroll was such a good idea at £35 million. To that, I’d like to raise a few hypotheticals.
With Chelsea offering to make him the fourth most expensive transfer ever, would it have been worth it to hold onto Torres and risk him airing out his discontent in public, thereby hurting the team and his value? If the numbers had been different – let’s say £40 million for Torres and £25 million for Carroll, the same price difference – would there be as many people up in arms over the fee paid for the young Englishman? And lastly, in the scramble for another No. 9 to replace Torres, would the fans have rather had Liverpool finally consummate its love affair with Carlton Cole and instead bought the oft-overrated West Ham man at a lower price?
Just a few thoughts to chew on as fans wait over the next fortnight or two for Carroll to make his debut. Liverpool is sure to remain in the headlines all week going into this Sunday’s showdown against Chelsea, which will, in all likelihood, mark Torres’ debut with the Blues. Whatever the result, I’ll continue to applaud NESV for having the courage of its convictions and also for stirring the Premier League cauldron to such entertaining effect.
Somewhere out there, Steven Gerrard is sitting on his couch under a blanket with a bowl of spaghetti, wondering if people still remember his name.