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How a small left-back became a Liverpool FC number 9

IT is around 4.40pm on January 10 2009, and Newcastle United are in desperate trouble. With the team having won just five league games all season, and with off-field issues strangling the club from within, the Toon Army are running out of patience as West Ham United recover from a goal down to take a 2-1 lead at St James’ Park.

More in hope than expectation, Damien Duff sends a cross into the penalty area from the left as he has done, without reward, for the majority of the match. Only this time, he hits the jackpot. This time, the ball lands on a young, hungry, tightly-braided head, and bullets beyond Robert Green in the West Ham goal.

Welcome to the Premier League, Andrew Thomas Carroll.

The gangly centre-forward had turned 20 only four days earlier, and had been jeered mercilessly by his team-mates as he arrived at training sporting his unconventional ‘cornrow’ hairstyle. The West Ham game was his first league start at St James’, and his 78th minute strike was his first for Newcastle. Having sat in the Jackie Milburn Stand and imagined following in the footsteps of his idol, Alan Shearer, Carroll had finally realised his boyhood dream.

“It was the best feeling in the world,” he said afterwards, “Something I will cherish all my life and something I have dreamt of since I was a little boy.

“I didn’t really know what to do. I just jumped up, stuck my hand in the air and kept my emotions all in. But it really meant a lot to me.”

Ultimately, Carroll’s late intervention against West Ham would do little to arrest Newcastle’s slide. They would be relegated from the Premier League four months later, having won just two of their remaining 17 games.

For Carroll, though, the dark clouds that gathered over Tyneside during that period would be lined with silver. He had made 16 appearances for the Magpies by the time the season was out, scoring three times. He might have been heading for the Championship, but he had arrived.

Born in Gateshead on January 6 1989, Carroll, along with his mother, father and two brothers – who attend every game he plays – was always Newcastle-mad.

A ball-boy at St James’ Park for three years, the gangly teen was discovered by the club whilst playing for local side Low Fell Juniors.

Alan Jarvis, a coach at the famous Wallsend Boys club – which spawned the likes of Peter Beardsley, Michael Carrick and Shearer – was the man who recommended Carroll to Newcastle recruitment officer Peter Kirkley. Jarvis remembers seeing the youngster tear his side apart for Low Fell, and says it was clear that Carroll possessed that special quality.

“He was a small, skilful left-sided midfielder with great talent and ability,” says Jarvis, “I never expected him to turn into a big 6ft 4in centre-forward, that’s for sure.

“I knew that I’d seen something special. He had something that other players did not have.”

Sunderland, naturally, were interested, but there was only one club Carroll was ever interested in.

He joined Newcastle at 11, but was drifting at the club’s academy after being utilised as an auxiliary left-back.

Only the intervention of the-then academy director John Carver – now the Toon’s assistant manager – and a growth spurt at the age of 15 enabled Carroll to develop into the all-action, powerhouse striker he is today.

“It often happens,” says Carver. “Left-footed players are asked to do a job for the team.

Andy had joined us as a forward but was moved into the back four due to the shortage of left-backs.

“At the end of that season, a decision had to be made on his future and a couple of the coaches didn’t think he was good enough.

"Others pushed his claims and, in the end, it was up to me to decide whether he got a two-year scholarship.

“You can’t judge someone when they’re playing out of position. Fortunately, I’d seen him play up front, so it was a no-brainer.”

A no-brainer, and a decision which paid handsome dividends. Like Malcolm MacDonald, the Geordie No. 9 of the 1970s, Carroll was transformed from an awkward left-back into an aggressive, goalscoring centre-forward, very much in the Shearer mould. Carver, though, believes there are more obvious comparisons to be made with another ex-Newcastle striker.

“Sir Bobby Robson always said the best way to judge a player was to imagine yourself up against him,” says Carver. “If you enjoyed playing against a certain opponent, then he couldn’t be the greatest footballer.

“Andy’s big hero was always Alan Shearer, but, to me, he was much more a Duncan Ferguson clone.

"No defender relishes the prospect of coming up against Andy. He ruffles up defenders, bullies them, doesn’t give them any peace. He certainly passes Sir Bobby’s test.”

It wasn’t the only test he would pass at Newcastle. Always an aerial target, Carroll worked extensively on improving his ground skills, attending extra training sessions to focus on his technical attributes.

Former Liverpool and Newcastle star Terry McDermott encountered the raw teenager whilst working alongside Lee Clark – to whom he is now assistant at Huddersfield Town – with the Magpies’ reserve team, and says Carroll was by no means a certainty to make the grade.

“We all knew he had something about him, due to his size alone,” McDermott told the ECHO. “But I would defy anybody to say he was a certainty at Newcastle, and to become the player he has become.

“We all had an inkling that he had a chance to become a player, but nobody was 100% sure. That’s why he went out on loan to Preston.

“I used to take him to do some shooting and some volleys and things like that, and he had the ability to fire one into the top corner from 30 yards one minute, and then miss the ball completely the next.

“Myself and Lee would talk to him about working on his technique. We knew he had the abilities to be a really good player, it was a question of applying himself and working hard to improve.”

Improve he did. In November 2006, he became the youngest European debutant in Newcastle’s history when he appeared as a substitute away to Palermo in the UEFA Cup, aged 17 years 300 days. His league debut would arrive against Wigan Athletic the following February, and he would spearhead the club’s charge to the semi-finals of the FA Youth Cup in 2007 and was beginning to become something of a talisman for the reserve team.

“I remember one game against Middlesbrough at the Riverside,” says McDermott. “And he was absolutely unplayable. He scored a hat-trick, against good experienced players too, and he was just fantastic. You could see him getting better and better.”

International recognition soon arrived. Carroll made a goalscoring debut for England’s Under-19s side in September 2007 in a 4-0 win over Belarus. He was, by this time, at Preston, having joined on a six-month loan deal.

Lillywhites boss Paul Simpson described his capture as “a good target man with bags of potential”, but he would depart the club in November, with the side struggling.

Simpson’s replacement, Alan Irvine, set about stamping his authority at Deepdale and a raw, untried striker was not part of his plans, and he was sent back to the north east having scored just one goal – a header, naturally.

“Before he left, I had a conversation with him,” says Irvine. “And told him he could be as good as he wanted to be but that he needed to be 100% professional.”

Fortunately for Carroll, Irvine wasn’t the only man who held this view. His stint at Preston may not have been the success story he had envisaged, but his fledgling career would go from strength to strength on his return to St James’ Park.

FACT FILE

Full Name: Andrew Thomas Carroll

Born: Gateshead, January 6th 1989.

Height: 6ft 3in

Position: Centre-forward

Clubs: 2006-2011 - Newcastle United (91 appearances/33 goals)

2007-2008 - Preston North End - loan (11 appearances/1 goal),

2011 - Liverpool (1 appearance)

International Honours: England (1 cap/0 goals)

* A lifelong Newcastle supporter, Carroll was a ball boy at St James’ Park for three years as a teenager.

* Became Newcastle's youngest ever European debutant, when appearing against Palermo in the UEFA Cup in November 2006, aged 17 years 300 days.

* Made his Premier League debut for the Magpies on February 25, 2007 as a late substitute against Wigan Athletic.

* Scored on his England U19 debut, in a 4-0 win against Belarus in September 2007.

* His first senior goal came whilst on loan at Preston, in a game against Leicester City in November 2007.

* Scored his first Newcastle goal in a 2-2 draw with West Ham on January 10, 2009.

* Was Newcastle's leading goalscorer in the 2009/10 season, scoring 19 goals as the Toon blasted their way to promotion to the Premier League.

* Handed the No.9 shirt at St James’ for 2010/11, Carroll scored 11 times in his opening 20 games, including a hat-trick against Aston Villa, and crucial strikes against Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal.

* Joined Liverpool on January 31, 2011, for £35million - a record fee for a British player.

* Made his Reds debut in the 3-1 win over Manchester United at Anfield on March 6, 2011.

THERE are few clubs in world football which revere its players like Newcastle United. Especially its centre-forwards.

To think of Newcastle and strikers is to think of Kevin Keegan standing on the steps of St James’ in 1995, bravely placating fans raging at Andy Cole’s mid-season sale to Manchester United. Or the thousands of Geordies who braved the rain to welcome Alan Shearer at an impromptu rooftop unveiling 18 months later. From Jackie Milburn, Len Shackleton and Hughie Gallacher, through the likes of Malcolm MacDonald, Cole and Shearer, the No.9 shirt has always been the most sacred at St James’ Park.

Yet for a whole year following the club’s ignominious relegation from the Premier League in 2009, the famous shirt remained vacant, unused, a morbid reminder of abject failure.

With expensive failures Mark Viduka, Obafemi Martins and Michael Owen having left the club, Toon boss Chris Hughton – who had been handed the job on a permanent basis, surprisingly, ahead of Shearer that summer – refused to allocate the number as Newcastle prepared for life in the more austere surroundings of the Championship.

“Nobody at the club is worthy of it,” was Hughton’s blunt assessment. A record of just 40 goals in 38 league matches in 2008-09 suggests he was not far wrong.

Fast forward a year, and the landscape had shifted significantly. Hughton had presided over a record-breaking season, in which Newcastle had romped to promotion with 102 points, 90 goals and just four defeats. When the squad returned for pre-season training after a celebratory summer, he found a visitor to his office.

Andy Carroll did not just want the number 9 shirt, he demanded it.

“I went in and asked him for it,” says Carroll. “I wanted it badly. I knew I’d done well the season before.

“We had a couple of days off and when we come back in again the manager pulled me aside and gave it to me.

“I grew up watching Shearer. That was the shirt I wanted to wear as a boy.”

This time, there was no doubt that Newcastle had found a worthy No.9. Carroll was the only choice.

Newcastle were abject during their relegation campaign, and the fall-out was equally damaging. Out went high earners – Owen, Viduka, Martins, Damien Duff, Geremi, Sebastien Bassong and Nicky Butt all departed as Mike Ashley, the reviled chairman, looked to cut costs. There were no marquee signings, no statements of intent. This was the new, humble, low-key Newcastle.

And Carroll was to be its spearhead. A humiliating 6-1 defeat at Leyton Orient in pre-season proved to be the nadir for Newcastle. Following that game, an influential players’ cartel – led by Kevin Nolan, who would soon be named club captain – would emerge. Its role? To change the atmosphere within the dressing room, to quell the infighting, to ensure unity and harmony within the squad.

For Carroll it was the ideal scenario, even if he took him a while to find his true goalscoring form.

Having made his debut for the England Under-21 side against Holland in August – a fine achievement considering he had just nine senior starts to his name at that point – Carroll would take seven games to net his first goal of the season (a header, in a defeat to Blackpool), and had just four league goals to his name by the end of January.

His all-round game, however, was integral to Newcastle’s solid form. They were in the Championship’s top two virtually all-season, with Carroll – described by goalkeeper Steve Harper as “unplayable” after one game against Sheffield United – the focal point round which much of their play revolved.

And, as winter turned to spring, the lanky striker began to flourish. Striking up a deadly partnership with Nolan – by now a close friend off the field – he netted 13 times in Newcastle’s last 19 games, including the goal which sealed the title for Hughton’s men at Plymouth Argyle, and created countless others with his unselfish, aggressive play.

Terry McDermott believes Carroll’s contribution to Newcastle’s promotion campaign has been underplayed, and that his 19 goals that season were as much a testament to his mental strength as his vastly-improved technique.

“One thing Andy is, and always has been, is a winner,” says McDermott, “He proved that in the Championship with Newcastle.

“There was an awful lot of pressure on Andy, coming into a relegated side and carrying the burden of playing centre-forward, but he is a wholehearted player and he handled it superbly.

“He delivered for them, and showed he was strong mentally, and that he had belief in himself. That takes character, and he’s got bagfuls of it.”

He needed it, too. Carroll may have announced himself to the football world with his performances on the pitch, but off it he was beginning to attract headlines for the wrong kind of reasons.

An arrest for assault in September 2008 resulted in a police caution, whilst he was involved in an ugly training ground spat with then team-mate Charles N’Zogbia in January 2009, after the Frenchman reacted to an over-zealous challenge. At the time, manager Joe Kinnear, predictably, played down the incident as “handbags”, though N’Zogbia would leave the club for Wigan less than two weeks later.

Even during his breakthrough year in the Championship, with his team flying high, his rap sheet continued to grow.

An incident in December 2009 saw him arrested for assault once more, after a man accused him of smashing a glass into his face following a row in a nightclub. Carroll would eventually plead guilty to common assault, and in October 2010 was fined £1,000, and ordered to pay £2,500 costs.

Perhaps most alarmingly, in March 2010, came another training ground bust-up, this time with fellow Geordie Steven Taylor. The alleged altercation, which was said to be over an ex-girlfriend of Carroll’s, left Taylor with a broken jaw, and at the time threatened to derail Newcastle’s bid for promotion. Taylor, angered by the club’s apparent unwillingness to punish Carroll, would later hand in a transfer request.

Carroll, in truth, did little to dampen the flames, allowing himself to be pictured at a rap concert soon after the incident with heavily bandaged hands, but Newcastle refused to publicly comment and, typically, it would be the striker who would score the only goal as the Magpies defeated Doncaster Rovers later in the week.

Controversy is nothing new to Carroll. McDermott remembers a kid who “was always getting into scrapes and fracases” in the academy and reserve team sides but, like pretty much everyone else who has dealt with him in a coaching capacity, has nothing but kind words for his off-field persona.

“He has been in one or two incidents of course, but trust me he is a good kid,” says McDermott, “My son Neale, who was a couple of years above him at Newcastle’s academy, is friendly with him, and speaks very highly of him as a character.

“He is a good lad with a good attitude and a very down to earth character. There is no arrogance or sense of entitlement with him. The key is for him to surround himself with the right people.”

The presence of Nolan, a close personal friend and a calming influence off the field, has undoubtedly helped in that respect.

Nonetheless, Carroll has found himself as much a fixture on the front pages as the back in the last 18 months. Even his hero was moved to make a plea for his goalscoring successor to curb his wild-child ways.

“There are one or two things going on off the pitch that he has to sort out,” said Shearer in March 2010. “Nobody is perfect and we have all done things we regret. But you can’t keep making them when you are in his position.

“He has a chance and it is up to him. This is just the start for him. He is still a young boy, and playing for the club he supported as a boy. The challenge is carrying it on next season and the season after that.

“He has done a really good job but this is his first season of regular first team football. It looks as though Newcastle will be promoted and it will be a big season for him if they are back in the Premier League.”

Fortunately for Newcastle, there is nothing Carroll relishes more than a challenge. With the number 9 shirt tucked firmly inside his locker, the swashbuckling centre-forward would head into the 2010/11 campaign determined to follow in Shearer’s footsteps in the only way he knew how. By making his mark on the Premier League, and its defences.

What they said about Liverpool FC’s record signing Andy Carroll >>>>>>

“I gave Andy his first Premier League start (v Everton) in May 2008 and I must say, he is probably in the top three headers of a ball I have ever seen in football. Defenders do not like playing against a player in his mould because he will knock them about a bit and is an old-fashioned centre forward.” - Former Newcastle boss Kevin Keegan

“I had Andy as a young man at Newcastle when I was there and you could see the raw talent.” - Sam Allardyce

“He loves his football, and I see that with the way he trains every day, and that’s something that you can’t buy. When you look at that dream that everybody lives for, you can’t buy that. He’s come all the way through, I’m delighted for him.” - Peter Beardsley, academy coach at Newcastle

“Carroll played like what we call in Italy a paintbrush striker. He was there to add the finishing touch. He played well on his own. He will be an asset because he can find the smaller players around him in different ways and has already shown he has great awareness.” - World Cup winning goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon is impressed following a pre-season friendly against Carroll in 2007

“I’ve been in the spotlight for the wrong reasons. On the way to some games with Newcastle I’ve been reading headlines about myself. On the way to Arsenal this season that was the case, and I scored the winner. It doesn’t bother me.” - Carroll is able to ignore the negative press

“(Andy’s) just a young boy with a great talent. He’s a big lad but is very good on the deck as well, he has good feet, he’s very strong in the air and he’ll give us a bit of presence up front.” - Kenny Dalglish is delighted with his new capture

REPORTERS hanging round outside training grounds from dawn to dusk, ‘club sources’ carefully leaking juicy titbits to all and sundry, and Harry Redknapp chasing strikers around Europe with a blank chequebook – it is fair to say that transfer deadline days can, in general, be tiresome affairs.

For Andy Carroll, however, the January window of 2011 will be one that lives long in the memory.

Ironically, Carroll would not play a game throughout that month, as he recuperated from a thigh injury sustained in Newcastle’s game with Tottenham on December 28.

Little did he know as he limped from the field at White Hart Lane that he had played his last game for the club. Having begun the month frustrated as he planned his recovery from injury, Carroll would end it a Liverpool player having been unveiled as the club’s most expensive ever signing.

In many ways, it was just the latest remarkable twist in a remarkable season for the Gateshead-born striker. One which has so far featured a raft of Premier League goals, a senior international debut, a host of plaudits and, typically, a fresh batch of off-field headlines.

It was on November 18 that Carroll made his first senior appearance for England, in a 2-1 defeat to France at Wembley.

That night, against a French side re-energised by Laurent Blanc’s arrival as coach, Carroll was deployed by Capello as a lone frontman in an experimental line-up. A daunting task for most, you would imagine, but not the grinning Geordie, who was one of England’s better performers amid a generally disjointed display.

“I knew I was capable of playing for England before I got the chance to,” said Carroll, without a trace of arrogance.

“The way I’d been playing for Newcastle helped me get the chance and it felt good, but I wasn’t really surprised it happened because in my head I knew I could do it and it was my target.

“I wasn’t nervous at Wembley. I don’t really get nervous about anything, to be honest. Obviously I knew it was a big game and there were a lot of fans and other people watching. But football is what I do, so there was nothing to get nervous about.

“I know some players might worry but I am different, nothing really fazes me. I can shut everything out. When I am on the training pitch, all I am thinking about is training. Before matches, I don’t think about anything except just going out there.”

It is that kind of self-confidence which has decorated Carroll’s first full season as a Premier League player.

Having been handed the number 9 shirt, the boyhood Newcastle fan was quick to repay the faith shown in him by manager Chris Hughton.

Impressive in the Toon’s defeat to Manchester United on the opening weekend of the campaign, Carroll would mark his first appearance at St James’ Park as Newcastle’s number nine in fitting fashion, netting a hat-trick in a 6-0 win over Aston Villa.

Hughton described his performance afterwards as “sensational”, with his blend of aerial power, ruthless finishing and surprising subtlety serving early notice of his international credentials.

The eye-catching performances continued; goals against Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and, in December, Liverpool followed, with Carroll becoming very much the hub around which all of Newcastle’s play revolved.

He would score 11 times by the turn of the year; more than Wayne Rooney, Didier Drogba, Darren Bent or Nicolas Anelka and more, significantly, than Fernando Torres, the man he would replace at Liverpool.

Yet off the pitch, his increasing profile was having its drawbacks.

It is not unusual for an up and coming player to find himself the subject of a few unsavoury tabloid headlines, and Carroll is no different.

Brushes with the law, reports of a marathon drinking session following Newcastle’s 5-1 derby victory over Sunderland in October and a worrying incident which saw his car set alight outside Toon skipper Kevin Nolan’s home have been a feature of this campaign as well as all his goals, but Carroll is not one to wallow in negativity.

“I’ve been in the spotlight for the wrong reasons,” he says. “On the way to some games with Newcastle I’ve been reading headlines about myself. On the way to Arsenal this season that was the case, but I managed to score the winner.

"I know what I can do; I can go out there and score goals.

“The thing about those headlines was the fact that everybody close to me knew it wasn’t right or true.

"Everyone at the club and my friends and family knew the things that were said weren’t correct, so it didn’t bother me.”

And then came January. Carroll’s record-smashing transfer to Merseyside was something of a whirlwind, even by general deadline-day standards.

The Geordie was relaxing at home on Sunday evening when he was informed of an official bid from Liverpool – who had resigned themselves to losing their own talisman, Fernando Torres, to Chelsea – and by Monday teatime he was in a helicopter, on his way finalise a £35m switch to Anfield.

“I was a bit surprised and didn’t really know what was going on at the time,” said Carroll later.

“When I knew it was real and that there was a chance for me to come here I knew it was a great opportunity and that I had to take it.”

Having been at Newcastle since the age of 11, Carroll’s departure was always going to be an emotional one.

He would later express his disappointment at the way the club handled his transfer – Newcastle publicly announced that Carroll had handed in a transfer request, while Magpies boss Alan Pardew suggested the striker had pushed for a move after being denied a lucrative new contract at St James’ Park – but he insists the episode will not alter his affections for the Toon.

“I’ve got massive respect for Newcastle,” he revealed soon after signing on the dotted line at Anfield, “It’s my team, my hometown club, and it always will be.”

The fee, a record for a British player, surpassing the £30m paid by Manchester United for Rio Ferdinand in 2002, has been debated at great length, with many suggesting the Reds have overpaid for a striker who, ostensibly, has just half a season of Premier League goalscoring on his CV. Others, though, believe Liverpool could just as easily have snared themselves a bargain.

“He is probably in the top three headers of a ball I have ever seen in football,” says Kevin Keegan, who gave Carroll his first Premier League start against Everton in May 2008.

“Defenders do not like playing against a player in his mould because he will knock them about a bit and is an old-fashioned centre-forward. “He is not Alan Shearer yet, and he may never be, but if he maintains his prolific form and continues in a confident vein, it would be unwise to put limits on his potential.”

Keegan’s former assistant Terry McDermott made the same switch as Carroll to the Reds back in 1974, and says the presence of Kenny Dalglish could help mould his new capture into a genuine Anfield hero.

“He’s a bit of a boy, a bit of a jack the lad, but there is nothing wrong with that,” says McDermott. “So was Gazza, so was I – I don’t put myself in the same bracket as Gazza by the way!

“Andy has done things he regrets, but who hasn’t? The key is to learn from them, and I’m sure he will, and that he will be a massive success at Liverpool because of his character and his attitude.

“He loves playing football, and he could not be at a better place right now than under Kenny’s wing. He has lots to learn still, but he is learning from the best with Kenny.

“And having someone like Steven Gerrard – one of the world’s best midfield players – feeding balls through to him and putting crosses on a sixpence for him in the air, then he can’t help but score goals and improve as a player.”

And what of the man himself?

“Liverpool have spent a lot of money on getting me here and I just want to repay them for what they have spent,” says Carroll.

“I’ll do my best, and I think I can do it. I want to win trophies with this club and help push us forward.”

One thing is for sure; whatever happens in Andy Carroll’s Liverpool career, it promises to be an entertaining journey.

ANDY CARROLL had sampled the Anfield atmosphere before, but still found himself blown away by the noise of the Kop as he made his long-awaited Liverpool debut against Manchester United on Sunday.

The last time Carroll was sat in the dugouts in front of the Main Stand, his mood was one of despair, as he watched his Newcastle side – then managed by Alan Shearer – wilt in the sunshine against Rafa Benitez’s high-flying Reds.

Carroll was due to make a substitute appearance late on, but the indiscipline of Joey Barton put paid to that plan.

“I was stripped and ready to come on,” he remembers. “But then Joey got sent off and I was told to sit back down. That’s the only time I had been to Anfield for a first team game before now.”

Carroll’s side would lose 3-0 that day in May 2009, and his other visit to Anfield saw Newcastle beaten in the 2007 FA Youth Cup semi-final.

But on Sunday it was a different story, as a rampant Liverpool outclassed United 3-1. For the new boy, and club record signing, there was the bonus of a 16-minute cameo appearance – his first for the club – and a chance to enjoy the positive end of the Anfield support.

“When I was running back, all the fans were shouting and screaming and so I got a little bit excited,” said Carroll afterwards. “I was over the moon to get on there and get back playing.

“The support was unbelievable for me. The fans have been great since I signed and even when I was warming up, they were fantastic. It was an incredible atmosphere – definitely one of the best I’ve ever experienced.”

Liverpool fans will be hoping to see plenty more of their £35m man going forward and, having just turned 22, Carroll will surely get many more opportunities to soak up the adulation of an adoring Kop.

Copyright - Liverpool Echo

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