The surprise alacrity surrounding an otherwise indistinguishable tie on a solemn ‘Super Sunday’ garnered utmost clarification from NBC’s Peter Drury. Quite unlike the perishing thoughts that haunted Paul Lambert and Nigel Pearson in the build up to their own duel, Drury reminded us how Sam Allardyce and Garry Monk of West Ham and Swansea had little care for job security this weekend. Of either club’s mid-table finish last season, little is now recalled. An unrestricted hopefulness that is usually tethered down in August or late December remains as of yet resolute. While the depth and familiarity available to their more esteemed rivals may eventually hinder competitiveness throughout the season, a current lack of concern for that which lies beneath enabled for a thrilling contest worth getting out of bed for.
With a level of cadence that rarely encumbers managerial revelation, Sam Allardyce – no doubt displaying his faith in an Andy Carroll continually besieged by injury – revealed how Carroll had been signed at the expense of acquiring Wilfried Bony.
Although the returning Carroll would end a victor, Bony’s contribution to the tie was all-encompassing. The willingness evident within his play to defend as fastidiously as he attacked bore an uncanny resemblance to Wayne Rooney’s fevered approach to the game. Bony’s solitary goal of Swansea’s ill-fated afternoon mirrored the composed styling and absolute confidence of a certain Rooney goal against Chelsea in a 2011 Champions League tie. In fleeting moments, Bony appeared a player on the precipice of an inevitable, unstoppable rise. The bated breath of fans daring to imagine a sustained stay in the top half of the top half of the Premier League for their club seemed an unworthy concern for a player so obviously at home there.
Yet, the intricate details that now appear to determine a plan and reason in every football action suggest that what is obvious in Bony’s appeal may well be masking less desirable attributes. Few may now recall the leaked Chelsea dossier of 2005 that speculated certain weaknesses that Mourinho and his staff saw as evident in the Newcastle goalkeeper, and Irish footballing legend, Shay Given. Any goalkeeper that amasses over four-hundred Premier League appearances retains more strengths then he does weaknesses.
However, and I am not suggesting that Mourinho & co were necessarily correct in their judgement, but, the cause for reasonable doubt that certain players who appear the full package harbor is worth scrutinizing when considering Bony. Why, in a summer where Liverpool required a player who mirrored – if not in ability, at least in work rate – the departing Luis Suárez, did Mario Balotelli make his return to England while Bony, only a year his senior, remained in Wales?
It would be unfair on Bony to suggest he should equally have been on the radars of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal as they went looking for attacking players in the summer. The Balotelli comparison is rooted in the fact that statistically, and indeed socially, Bony appears preferable and equally affordable. While such an investigation becomes mired in circumstantial reasoning, the potential for lateral movement alone for a player of such consistent threats garnered some explanation when we consider his direct attacking opponent in today’s encounter.
Andy Carroll has been given his opportunity at an elite club and spurned it. The unrelenting cruelty of this perception of Carroll’s time as Liverpool’s marquee signing and concurrent misfit is likely to remain in stone provided a consistent run of displays akin to this afternoon doesn’t materialize. In his element, he is as Drury declared, an effective, old-fashioned number 9. Although complimentary, in a footballing age where 9 has acquired the avant-gardish conception of being false, to be rooted in its original incarnation requires one attain an astounding mastery of the role should they wish to retain relevance. Persistent stories of Carroll’s general impartiality for a good time off the pitch, combined with an unfortunate series of injuries leaves the possibility of acquiring such a level remote.
Caroll’s impact on today’s proceedings – two goals, the pass that played Sakho in for Fabianski’s sending off and the assist for Sakho’s eventual goal – was impeccable however. He looked every bit the astounding athlete and aerial threat that we are continually informed he is and that two clubs have broken their transfer record barrier to attain. Yet, I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was watching a player who had had his chance at greatness but would now see out the next ten or so years as a professional on an occasionally fluctuating but ultimately descending line. A sweeping judgement that I couldn’t truly justify in terms of hard reasoning or fact, it just struck me – as it does with Bony – that despite performance, something is lacking that the average viewer cannot tangibly witness.
In concluding this Sundays viewing of football, my eye will wander toward L.A. where Robbie Keane’s reasonably paid ‘Galacticos’ will contest the MLS Cup Final. The pinnacle of North American soccer, a triumph for L.A. Galaxy would be Keane’s third success in four attempts. Keane, like Carroll and countless others before them (although their shared experience is located in Liverpool) appeared to take a career step beyond where ability and circumstance could carry them. On their short and swift journey back from that personal peak, one imagines the after effects were harrowing. Success must remain relative however. Keane’s supernatural scoring ability for the Republic of Ireland bears no relevance to logic. Like his northern counterpart David Healy, while appearing in green, both players excelled at a level that was never truly touched on by them in club football. Although nine years Carroll’s senior, Keane’s choices represent that of the perennial competitor. With fascination I look forward to witnessing the decisions, performances and (de)evolution of Carroll revealed in the months and years ahead.