'Unplayable on his day'. 'Offers something different'. 'Typical English number nine'. Myriad cliches are batted about all too widely after Andy Carroll puts in any half decent performance that traditionalists in this country expect of and love from an archetypal British striker. Monday night saw Carroll score once - a powerful header from a corner - and set up another - a long ball he chested down for Mohamed Diamé to bundle in a deflected shot.
Carroll was WhoScored's top rated player in the clash. He was directly involved in both goals as West Ham beat Sunderland 2-1, and essentially sealed their Premier League safety for another year with a vital three points. This was indeed his day. Or at least as close to his day as we have seen this season. However, while it was enough to see off a Sunderland outfit who look wholly inadequate for the Premier League, that it is seen by some as sufficient for him to earn a place on Roy Hodgson's plane to Brazil is beyond ridiculous.
The 6' 4" striker did well, but was far from unplayable. He is more a than a handful at set-pieces but one imagines that a challenger better than John O'Shea may have done more to stop him, or that a better prepared side might even have put another man on him. 1 goal in 8 Premier League appearances previously this season suggests that others have indeed dealt with him appropriately on recent occasions.
Sam Allardyce is a master of getting his team playing to the players' strengths. He did it at Bolton and established them as a regular Premier League outfit. He has made West Ham into a functional team too, and those booing the admittedly dire win over Hull last week would do well to remember times not too far into the past with Avram Grant at the helm and the side relegated to the Championship. Demotion to the second tier is no longer a possibility under Allardyce, but it is not unreasonable to ask for something more. Now that they have the players to compete in the top flight, can West Ham go further and stop playing the long ball game that they continue to adopt? And with this comes another thought: should Roy Hodgson not avoid any chance of his England team resorting to a similar tactic by keeping Carroll out of his squad?
The notion that Carroll is 'unplayable on his day' may well ring true against mediocre Premier League sides when West Ham are looking to secure a mid-table Premier League position. Against the likes of Italy's Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci at the World Cup, would he be unplayable? Most likely not. Carroll ranks second in Europe for aerial duels won per game (8.2), and while Chiellini (3.2) and Bonucci (1.2) average significantly fewer, they have had to deal with big, physical players before and are clever enough to be able to deal with such a threat. In 9 appearances against either of the two defenders playing for Juventus, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the most powerful and aerially threatening striker on the planet, has managed to score just once
If England make it further than the group stages, what reason is there to believe that Carroll will have any impact against the likes of Sergio Ramos, Piqué, Per Mertesacker or Thiago Silva?
The only 'big' teams he has scored against in the past 3 seasons are Tottenham and Manchester City, and his goal against City was struck straight at Joe Hart, who let it feebly squeeze through his legs in the 90th minute when the game was already won. One could perfectly fairly reason that Carroll is not in fact unplayable. Even on his day.
Next comes the contention that Carroll offers something different. What exactly is this means to be, though, this different approach to the game? Simply because England do not tend to play the ball long to a big frontman, is it a positive that Carroll would provide the almost perfect player to do just that? Given that none of Wayne Rooney, Raheem Sterling, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Adam Lallana, Ross Barkley, Andros Townsend, Jay Rodriguez, Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck or James Milner - the players likely to occupy the spots behind a lone striker in Hodgson's 4-2-3-1 - play in a system where they look to make runs for a second ball off a striker, why would you expect that they could do so effectively against the best footballing nations in the world?
West Ham play a higher proportion of their passes long (16.7%) than any other team in the Premier League, while the teams of the aforementioned midfielders all rank in the bottom half of the league in terms of proportion of passes played long. All of their teams unquestionably play better football than the Hammers and that they rank higher in the table is no coincidence. West Ham's football is sometimes effective, and Andy Carroll might well be different to say, Rickie Lambert, but with ball retention increasingly important at the highest level, Carroll's passing ability (59% success) could see him come unstuck when the ball is kept on the ground.
He is indeed a typical English number nine. But England have failed at every tournament since 1966 and will continue to do so unless they adapt to the constantly evolving nature of the modern, foreign-dominated game. Andy Carroll is not the solution to their problems. Hodgson probably doesn't have the players available to him to solve those issues and make significant inroads in Brazil. It would, however, be refreshing at the very least, to see England go to the World Cup with a squad of players selected on form, successful playing styles that fit together and a different outlook to those that favour sticking to football's outdated and ineffective methods. Picking Andy Carroll would simply be the wrong decision on so many different levels.
Should Andy Carroll go to the World Cup this summer? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below
All statistics courtesy of http://www.whoscored.com where you can find yet more statistics and player ratings.