Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughThe Biggest Loser: Torres or Carroll - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough The Biggest Loser: Torres or Carroll - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

The Biggest Loser: Torres or Carroll

Twelve months ago if you were looking for two strikers that could be regarded as modern-day cult heroes then you need look no further than in the cities of Liverpool and Newcastle. Both wore the number 9 shirt for their respective clubs and both, in the eyes of their adoring fans, could seemingly walk on water. In the red corner you had Fernando Torres, who had become the new ‘kop idol’, following in such illustrious footsteps as the likes of Roger Hunt, Ian Rush and Robbie Fowler before him. Whilst in the black and white corner, where they love nothing more than a goal-scoring local lad in a number 9 shirt, the new sensation was Andy Carroll who appeared to be well on the way to filling the void left by the city’s last goal-scoring phenomenon, Alan Shearer.

However, on Monday 31st January 2011, their lives and careers would forever become intrinsically linked as they became the centre-piece of a dramatic transfer-window deadline saga. When Torres handed in a transfer request over the preceding weekend, Liverpool knew that they had to act fast to replace a player that was clearly intent on forcing a move away from the club, following their rejection of two bids from Chelsea for his services, just days before. As the clock run down on the transfer deadline, Liverpool pulled off an even bigger shock by persuading Newcastle United to part with their new star player, with an offer they simply could not refuse.

Up until that point Carroll was the new kid on the block and the biggest revelation of the season. Having been an integral part of the promotion winning team the season before, Carroll took to the Premier League like a fish to water. He looked the part and despite his somewhat ungainly appearance, he was blessed with good technique to go alongside his more obvious traits of having considerably aerial prowess and was brave, powerful and strong. Within the first six months of the season Carroll had racked up an astonishing 20 goals for Newcastle and had earned his first England cap. Fabio Capello even described him as England’s future number 9. Torres on the other hand had looked a shadow of the player he was in his first two and a half seasons at Liverpool. During that period Torres had become probably the world’s deadliest striker and had terrorised the very best defences in the Premier League and across Europe, in the Champions League. However, for much of his third season at the club he struggled with an injury and underwent a knee operation prior to the end of the season. He went into the 2010 World Cup in South Africa below par having endured a torrid campaign with an underperforming Liverpool side and was still not fully fit. Despite being a part of Spain triumphant World Cup winning squad, Torres did not distinguish himself in the tournament and was dropped for the Final against the Netherlands. Speculation was rife that he was about to leave Liverpool following the departure of Rafael Benitez that summer. His new boss Roy Hodgson managed to persuade him to stay, but Hodgson struggled to reignite the fire that had clearly gone from his game. When Hodgson was sacked in December and club legend Kenny Dalglish came in his place, there were signs that Torres was coming back to his best. His vintage strike in the 2-1 defeat at Blackpool and the two goals he scored in the 3-0 win at Wolves seemed to suggest that Dalglish’s X-Factor had worked its magic on Torres and that he had helped him rediscover his footballing mojo. However, this proved to be nothing more than a parting gift to the Liverpool fans, as the seeds were being sewn behind the scenes for a move to Chelsea. Torres transfer request rocked Liverpool but they held firm in the face of increasing pressure to sell from Chelsea and Torres. Liverpool, by now under new ownership as well as a new manager, finally relented and accepted a staggering £50m bid from Chelsea, a British transfer record. Many Liverpool fans were disappointed that the player that they had come to love was so glibly willing to jump ship for a rival club like Chelsea. Liverpool duly spent £35m of the Torres money on Andy Carroll, who despite his obvious potential, still only had six months Premier League experience and one England cap to his name. However, the consensus was that the club had done good business and Carroll was seen as a decent replacement.  They had earlier in that transfer window secured the services of Luis Suarez, a player they had been chasing for some time, to partner Torres. But with Torres gone many fans were nonetheless excited by the prospect of a new strike partnership of Carroll and Suarez, evoking memories of previously successful double-acts such as Toshack and Keegan and Dalglish and Rush. It also cemented Dalglish’s own cult status as he emerged from the saga with great credit by virtue of his handling of the whole situation, acting swiftly to replace Torres with one of the Premier League’s most sought after young strikers.

Few would have predicted some eleven months later that between them they would yield a grand total of 10 goals for their respective clubs. The scale of their decline is perhaps what has come as the biggest surprise. After El Nino got the move he himself had engineered, many assumed the Torres of old would suddenly reemerge and many even predicted that he would be the catalyst to Chelsea winning the Champions League trophy that Abramovich was so desperate to land. But his rather lackluster and unspectacular debut against non other than Liverpool was a sign of things to come. To date he has comprehensively failed to make an impact at Chelsea. It took him 903 minutes before he managed to find the net in a Chelsea shirt and since the start of this season his luck has not changed. He now finds himself regularly keeping the subs bench warm having lost his place to Didier Drogba, whom many assumed he was signed to replace.

Torres’s drastic fall from grace has only partially masked over the equally disappointing Andy Carroll, who has looked anything but the beacon of hope that Liverpool thought they had signed. The team unquestionably looks a better side with him not in it. Indeed, Dalglish has crafted a slick passing team, much like the one he created, and then so astonishingly walked away from, 20 years ago. The 2011 version is still work in progress, but is starting to carve out a clear identity based on good movement and clever interplay, particularly from their forwards. However, their style of play has so far also served to expose Carroll’s very apparent lack of pace and relatively limited mobility. He too is regularly left out of his new side’s starting eleven, particularly in games against stronger opposition.

So, as we approach the anniversary of that dramatic and historic transfer window deadline day, we are left asking ourselves two fundamental questions. Who has been the biggest flop out of the two so far and will either of them ever deliver value for money for their clubs? Both questions are difficult to answer. Both clubs will tell you that they have been brought in as long term investments and will need and be given time to settle. However, the truth is that clubs with such high aspirations and expectations as Liverpool and Chelsea cannot afford to carry expensive misfits in their ranks. Both clubs have already lost a year on their investments with little returns in that time and both have seen their sell on values significantly reduced. Carroll’s current unofficial market value has decreased by 50%, whilst Torres is unofficially worth 26% less than what Chelsea paid for him.

Although both were brought in to score goals, most fans would accept their failure to do so if they were offering a positive contribution to a consistently winning team, but both teams have been remarkably inconsistent, heaping added pressures on both players.

Statistically, there is little to chose between them in terms of contribution to their new clubs. Carroll has made just 23 competitive appearances, scoring 5 goals, with no assists. In total he has played 975 minutes, with a goals per minutes ratio of 325. This compares to Torres’s 5 goals in 35 appearances, with 3 assists with a goal per 424 minutes ratio. In terms of shots on target, Carroll out scores Torres again with 44% to Torres’ paltry 21%. Neither statistical résumé is particularly overwhelming but on this evidence Carroll represents slightly better value. Even a more anecdotal analysis would also correspond with this view and would concur that Torres is the one who has been the biggest faux pas thus far. At 27, Chelsea would surely have bought him believing they had a player in his prime. A striker of proven pedigree who was just on a downer at a club whose fortunes had taken a turn for the worst and was in need of a fresh start. They saw him as the answer to their Champions League prayers and the ready-made replacement for the aging Drogba and Anelka. In addition, they would have no doubt seen a future long-term strike partnership with him and the talented Daniel Sturridge.  So far what they have got back is a player who many are wondering if he will ever reestablish himself as one of the world’s leading goal-scorers. There has been the odd sign of his former brilliance. He has to his credit looked much sharper and hungrier in patches this season. But his inability to regularly find the net has continued to haunt him and undermine his confidence. There are also rumours that he has struggled to adapt to his new surroundings in London and that he is also unhappy at being banished to the bench by his new manager Andre Villas-Boas. He was also accused of aiming some veiled criticism towards some of his Chelsea team-mates to a Spanish website, suggesting they were not quick enough. Reports also suggested that he pontificated about the team’s somewhat slower tempo in their play. A move back to Spain would appear to be his most likely destination in the not too distant future.

Carroll on the other hand is still only 22, with much to learn. Even before his big-money move to Liverpool, there were question-marks about his off-the-pitch lifestyle and his supposed liking for a pint or three. Although those questions still remain, in Dalglish he has a manager that is adept in man-management. He is likely to show the necessary patience to work with him on how to improve his game and if nothing else address any attitudinal deficiencies which could prevent him from living up to expectations in the long term. Should Dalglish succeed in doing this then as a younger player his sell on value would sufficiently increase to offer Liverpool a better return on their investment should they eventually choose to cash in on him in the future. 

Ultimately it may come down to how both team’s season fairs come next May. Both, having spent big in the summer, would at the very least expect Champions League football, but with potentially six teams looking a good bet for the top four places there is every possibility that only one of them will achieve it. Therefore, who so ever that ends up being will believe that the investment made in their number 9 is less of an issue, especially if there is also some silverware to go in the trophy cabinet come the end of the season. Whether that will be sufficient to see either club continue to place their trust in either player come the beginning of next season is another matter.

There is also the bizarre possibility that Torres could end up back at Liverpool.  Last week’s frenzy of speculation on Twitter that Liverpool may look to take him on loan as early as in the January transfer window served to heighten hopes for those that still lament his departure. As hurt as most Liverpool fans were at his perceived egocentricity last January, one suspects many would welcome him back, particularly given the lack of impact Carroll has had thus far. It is difficult to see Chelsea sanctioning such a move to one of their main competitors, but as someone once said, football is a funny old game. Maybe this strange saga has one last twist to deliver yet.

Wayne Wiggins @Wayne_Wiggins

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