There’s a joke doing the rounds on the internet at the moment.
It goes: ‘Chelsea manager Antonio Conte is having a medical at Stamford Bridge after being linked with a £30 million bid for West Ham striker Andy Carroll.’
A quick look at the frontman’s statistics appears to vindicate the skepticism: 32 goals in 110 games for West Ham and, before that, a paltry six in 44 matches for Liverpool. Overall, that’s one every 4.05 games – plainly not enough for a club with Chelsea’s lofty ambitions.
So, why is Antonio Conte pursuing the West Ham forward?
A hallmark of Antonio Conte’s sides has always been the need for a strong target-man to spearhead the side.
At Juventus, Conte could call upon giant Montenegrin Mirko Vucinic; at Italy, he gave opportunities to Graziano Pelle. Last season, of course, he utilized the combative Diego Costa – until the infamous bust-up which saw the Spaniard leave the club.
Alvaro Morata has occupied the role this season and has performed ably up front, grabbing important goals with both his feet and his head. However, this is the ex-Madrid man’s first season playing in a league without a winter break and Conte will want to ensure he is fresh for the business end of the season.
With this in mind, Conte needs a target-man he can trust. That plainly rules out current understudy Michy Batshuayi who has been given little opportunities at Stamford Bridge since his arrival for £33m last season.
Carroll is known for his aerial prowess – 24 of his 52 goals have come with his head – and this will suit a Chelsea side who have peppered the opposition with more crosses-per-game than any other side.
A different type of directness
Whilst Morata has made the most of those crossing opportunities so far, Carroll is more in the mould of a classic target-man.
Carroll brings a ‘rough-and-ready’ directness; he’s a scrapper from the north, a man who relishes the challenge of upstaging opposition defenders and isn’t afraid to put himself about for the good of the team.
He’s robust and he’ll allow Chelsea to go more direct when required. Pedro, Willian and Eden Hazard will all relish the chance to use their electrifying pace to latch on to his flick-ons.
Some will say Carroll is not skillful enough for a team challenging for the Champions League – but with those three behind him, perhaps there’s room for a little bit of the basics.
Nurturing the journeymen
How many of us thought we’d ever see Victor Moses as a regular starter for the champions of England after his failed spell with Stoke?
It’s true that Antonio Conte might not have wanted the Nigerian as his first-choice right wing-back, but Moses was coached into the position and became a standout success story of the 2016-17 season.
Conte identified key attributes within Moses’ game and taught the former-Wigan starlet how to couple his natural speed and creativity with defensive acumen.
Why couldn’t he do the same for Carroll? He could improve the hold-up play and the technical aspects that have so often been frustrating during the 29-year-old’s career, and turn him into an outstanding option for the current English champions.
Of course, Carroll does not have the best track record with injuries; and there’s every chance that the price-tag could weigh heavily on a man who looked burdened by the £35m he cost Liverpool back in 2011.
He has not shone with West Ham and they operate at a substantially lower level than Chelsea. It may be that Carroll has already found his level in the Premier League and the step up exposes the failings in his game.Published 18 Jan 2018, 19:37 IST