“When fit, he should be England’s regular centre-forward.’
When Big Sam wrote those words about his former West Ham striker Andy Carroll in his 2015 book, he might not have realised he’d have to live up to them as the Geordie striker’s international boss.
Allardyce swept into St Georges Park as England manager Monday in typically brash fashion seeking immediately to restore the feel-good factor he considers essential to the country’s international success.
Fielding questions from journalists, his answers were as down to earth and based on common-sense – rare in the football world – as the pragmatic football his teams play.
Yet it was noticeable that the one time he bristled, his smile turning into a frown was when questioned about the style of play his Three Lions side would adopt and how it would fit into the England DNA. Clearly thinking ‘Here We Go’ again having been ordered to provide “more entertainment” by West Ham supremos and accused, wrongly in the main, of favouring long ball to a target man, he said:
‘The England first team is about being successful in whatever tournament you take part in or qualifying for whatever tournament…The players available & who we play against will determine what style of play we will choose and I expect the players to be adaptable…Style of play has always been a tag I can’t shake…I played with Jermaine Defoe down the middle on his own at 5ft 10in last year… the style of play associated with me can’t really be associated with me”
Clearly the words of a manager wanting credit for playing better, more attractive football and looking to shake off a somewhat unfair reputation – mud-slung by vanquished foes and irate fans fed up of a perceived boring approach that has stuck – for his sides hoofing it to a big man and overly direct style.
Yet even at Sunderland it took him 6 games to drop Stephen Fletcher and play Defoe in the advanced striker’s role alone – the striker began life on the Black Cats bench under Big Sam, who had been “brainwashed” in his own words that the diminutive Defoe, actually 5ft 7.5″, couldn’t do it.
What Allardyce quickly realised was that arch-finisher of scraps and chances, the former Tottenham, West Ham and Portsmouth goal machine was best equipped to put away the limited no. of chances his underdog Sunderland side would create – and Defoe scored 15 times in The Premier League.
As he himself described, its “different kettle of fish” with England as the expectation is greater than at Sunderland as The Three Lions team enter most games rightly or wrongly as clear favourites so new battle plans are required both in easier qualification matches and harder tournament games but finding a winning a formula is the common sense approach that Sam will use.
Enter the most potent attacking weapon English football possess – Andy Carroll
What Sam Allardyce must not do is be afraid to play Andy Carroll for England for fear of reprisals.
Roy Hodgson was and look where it got him. The performance above for West Ham against Arsenal and France’s Laurent Koscielny – a defender who would play in The Euros final for Les Bleus – absolutely dominated by the Geordie, should have booked his place on the England plane to France.
Alongside Carroll should have been another man on fire form-wise as the season drew to a close – Andros Townsend – who was clearly busting a gut to impress attempting to save Newcastle, yet one cannot think the flak Hodgson received post “Space Monkey”-Gate didn’t help his cause.
Townsend’s equalising goal against Italy certainly helped Hodgson’s cause at the time and he’d proven a get-out-jail card scoring 3 times in 11 England Caps so it was odd he and Carroll, who had scored for him in an England shirt previously at Euro 2012 against Sweden, were overlooked.
With 10 seasons now under his belt, 6ft 4in tall, 27 year-old Geordie Andy Carroll is at the peak of his powers and “the best header of a ball in the world” according to a man who should know, his club manager and ITV’s star pundit at The Euros, former Croatia centre-back and manager Slaven Bilic.
Allardyce, of course, was at West Ham before Bilic so knows all about Carroll, the striker scored seven goals in 29 games for him for West Ham over the course of two seasons, 2013-5, and said he needed to sort his attitude out in his book:
‘He needs to be more responsible and realise that a football career passes in the blink of an eye.
‘He treats life a bit too casually. He also gets himself into situations off the pitch which a manager can do without – and so can he.
‘He doesn’t really like watching football and isn’t interested in the history of the game. But, when fit, he should be England’s regular centre-forward.’
Carroll has matured and settled down since, marrying and becoming a father, and this has helped produce a better return of games and goals on the pitch – nine goals in 27 appearances for West Ham last season.
The rub has always been injuries and whether he could stay fit. Realizing this, West Ham invested in strikers like Diafra Sakho and players like Dimitri Payet in order to have a plan B as well as plan AC.
Undoubtedly, Carroll thrives as the main man and is a classic throwback to the traditional English no. 9 centre forward, blood and guts, a shot of thunder and great in the air. Carroll has something on his football CV – a major trophy winner’s medal having scored the winner for Liverpool in the 2012 League Cup Final against Everton – that Allardyce is yet to add to his.
The England manager would do well to know England have never won a major trophy without a Geordie in The Three Lions line-up or a tournament knock-out stage game in modern times.
There is something in the Geordie DNA that England desperately need.
Allardyce is himself a throwback with Cloughian straight-talking self-confidence and a disdain for complicating football and other people’s ideas, yet one who fully embraces modern methods.
He made his name at Bolton with target man Kevin Davies, surrounded by flair players Jay Jay Okocha & Youri Djorkaeff, effective quality in Kevin Nolan & Gary Speed, pacy forwards like Nicolas Anelka.
Modern England could thrive led by Carroll with the likes of Marcus Rashford, Ross Barkley and Andros Townsend buzzing around him, perhaps Rooney in the deeper Nolan role.
His aerial threat from set-pieces will be honed to perfection by Big Sam and could be the jewel in England’s new crown.
“Its not potential anymore, its got to be reality now, its got to stand up and be counted as these young players have had lot of games and experience…its the England first team, you want the actual quality of the player to be producing his top performances immediately.”