Image: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images.
On Sunday night, it was reported that Liverpool had rejected a proposed loan deal from Andy Carroll’s former club Newcastle United. Carroll, who is 23, has failed to live up to the promise that persuaded Liverpool to make a last minute £35m bid for him in the January 2011 transfer window, and in recent months, the club have made no secret of the fact that they would be happy to off-load the striker.
What else is this but further indication that the welfare of players is increasingly coming a poor second to the business of football? Andy Carroll is twenty-three years old, and during his tenure at his boyhood club he scored thirty-one goals in eighty appearances. In 2010 he was most certainly one to watch, but the weight of that £35m price tag has burdened him to the point where he’s only scored six in forty-two appearances for the Reds.
Money has always been the driving factor behind the Premier League. Leeds United’s financial meltdown and subsequent drop to the third tier of the English league system was blamed on the club’s pursuit of lucrative European football. It was widely believed that despite Leeds’ example, several other clubs were ignoring the warning signs and spending more and more money just to keep up. It was predicted that so many clubs could find themselves in trouble, it would actually threaten the structure of the Premier League as a whole.
That didn’t happen. Indeed, there has been an upturn in club insolvencies and some big hitters have suffered, but the centre is holding so far, thanks in no small part to the wealth being injected by Russian oligarchs and Middle Eastern investment groups, whose apparently unlimited resources are propping up otherwise financially unstable clubs.
On the surface, it has never been a better time to be an elite footballer. It’s hard to feel sorry for a guy like Andy Carroll, who’s picking up a reported £90,000 a week for failing to fire for Liverpool. But a financial cushion does not protect a young man from the mental stress of expectation, the speculation of the newspaper and the relentless criticism of fans, many of whom earn less than half of Carroll’s weekly wage in a year. The same people who bitterly complain about the lack of success for the national team.
Newcastle’s renewed bid for Carroll might be the lifeline the player needs to sort himself out, both on the pitch and off it. But while he’s one of the first players to fall victim to this ‘pawn in a bigger game’ mentality that seems to be on the increase in global football, it’s almost certain he won’t be the last.
And that’s more damaging to the game’s future than any club insolvency.