In October of 2010, New England Sports Ventures paid £218m to Liverpool Football Club plus an extra £83m to underwrite the club’s debts at the time. On the last day of January of 2011, the same organisation valued the Newcastle United striker Andy Carroll at £35m. We’ll return to this particular piece of news shortly but, first of all, we should probably take a moment to focus on the overall sense of absolute, utter madness that has engulfed the Premier League today. After a sensible summer, during which clubs seemed to be taking on board the reality of the wider economic situation in the country and regulatory changes that are being introduced by UEFA, it had felt as if a new wind of austerity had swept across the game. At the end of today, though, the end of the January transfer window – which is supposed to be the tranquil transfer window, characterised by little more than a couple of loan deals and the occasional panic signing – it feels like a battle has been taking place, with Premier League clubs having spent the day daring each other to spend the most money possible in one twenty-four hour period.
At the top of the craziness tree sit Liverpool. The decision to sell Fernado Torres was forced upon them by a player that was clearly desperate to leave the club. It has been in his facial expression and his gait for some time and there was nothing to be gained by Liverpool from them holding onto a player that didn’t want to be at the club if a sufficiently plump offer came in for him. Courtesy of Chelsea (who also spent €25m on the Brazilian defender David Luiz from Benfica), such an offer came so Torres is now in London completing his formalities while the more hysterical elements of Liverpool’s support burn their Nando shirts for the insatiable cameras of Sky Sports News. It seems odd that Chelsea are splashing out more than £70m on players, considering that they have given every impression of having spent most of the last eighteen months trying to tighten their financial belts in anticipation of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations. There can be little question, however, that (even if we take it as read that there is an element of gamble about signing Luiz) Torres is one of the best strikers in the world if he can settle in London.
There has been a certain amount of disingenuity going on when discussing the major transfer talking point of the day. Comparing transfer values like for like is a fruitless task because there are so many variables that have to be taken into account. How much is the player’s weekly wage, and how long is his contract? How old is he? What is his temperament? Luis Suarez has had his issues in the past, but his quality as a player is unquestionable. Liverpool’s decision to sign Andy Carroll for £35m, however, contains too many what ifs for us to be able to consider it as anything other than, at best, a massive gamble on a rough diamond or, at worst, a panicked moment of madness based upon losing their – technically, if not necessarily temperamentally – best player with just hours left of the transfer window. Carroll has scored eleven goals in nineteen appearances for Newcastle United this season, which confirms that he has been in excellent form this season.
Whether he is worthy, on the playing front, of being the most expensive British player of all time, however, is a different matter. He has bags of the adjectives beginning with the letter “P” that Alan Hansen loves so much (pace, power, etc) and, at twenty-two years old, he has plenty of time to hone the aspects of his game that still require brushing up upon. The question marks that hang over Carroll, however, have more to do with his extra-curricular activities. This is how the charge sheet reads at present:
- September 2007; Sent home from the England u-19s squad for breaking a curfew.
- September 2008: Cautioned for assaulting a woman.
- January 2009: Supposedly got into a training ground fight with Charles N’zogbia over a late tackle.
- December 2009: Arrest for glassing someone outside a nightclub.
- March 2010: Reportedly involved in a fight with Stephen Taylor, resulting in a broken jaw for Taylor.
- October 2010: Charged with assualting his ex-girlfriend. Given bail if he moved in with Kevin Nolan. Charges later dropped.
- December 2010: Injured after falling off a chair in a casino whilst on a “mid-season break”.
It’s a troubling list, and some have sought comparisons between Carroll’s behaviour and that most troubled of former players, Paul Gascoigne. It’s too early to read much into such a simplistic comparison, but the twin demons of fighting and alcohol are recurrent themes in Carroll’s recent past already and the question of whether he can mend his ways with a move to Liverpool is a valid one. The north-west of England has more than its fair share of night spots, and perhaps what needs to be drummed into this player is that the price that Liverpool have paid for him carries responsibilities. Carroll’s agents were stating earlier this evening that his wages are due to increase from £27,000 per week to £80,000 per week with this transfer, so he will be a little cheaper to keep on a contractual basis than Torres, but there seems to be a better case to be made against him being a panacea for Liverpool’s difficulties than in favour We shall see.
All of this was played out against a media backdrop of breathless hysteria, with reporters stationed outside the training grounds and offices of clubs and the sky apparently jammed solid with helicopters ferrying players from one end of the country to the other for medicals and contract negotiations. There was no time for dead air, with any gaps in the conversation being filled by rumours being sent in from all corners of the country. It was hypnotic, fascinating, absurd and obscene in roughly equal measures, but the questions that may prove to be the most pertinent of all in the long term – Where is all of this money coming from? How do you integrate new players into a squad that has been together for six months at such a critical point in the season? – remained largely unaddressed for most of the day.
Such matters tend to be placed firmly on the back-burner when the apparently altogether more important matter of football clubs throwing their weight around is on the agenda. Indeed, today felt like a day upon which football suffered something approaching a collective nervous breakdown. A sense of hysteria has hung thick in the air, and the question of whether players, managers, anybody can live up to the hype that days like today bring with them. The deadline is at 11.00pm tonight, and nothing is confirmed until the signatures are on the paper. At that point, there’s a feint chance that the Premier League can get to football. Thank God there are only two transfer days per year.
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