Belfast Telegraph

Liverpool signings Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez eager to prove their worth

By Ian Herbert

Footballers no longer pose for photographs the way they once did.

Whenever Liverpool were due to play Spanish opposition someone would persuade Terry McDermott or Graeme Souness to slip on a sombrero — they supplied their own moustaches.

John Toshack and Kevin Keegan dressed up as Batman and Robin in support of headlines that proclaimed them Anfield's ‘Dynamic Duo’ with the inference that the Welshman was the senior partner.

Were this still 1976, someone in the stadium's Trophy Room would have asked Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez to don a miner's helmet and a poncho to show they came from Newcastle and Uruguay.

Instead, they walk in wearing tracksuits, which for young men is rather more likely leisurewear, whether on the banks of the Tyne or the Plate.

Between them they form a remarkable statement of intent in a January transfer window that for once has exceeded even the hyperbole of Sky Sports.

After an electric turn and sprint, finished off with his debut goal in Wednesday night's 2-0 win over Stoke, Suarez had little need of words to justify the £23m Liverpool had paid Ajax.

“Anyone would say it is a dream debut,” he reflected.

“Just to be on the pitch for a few minutes and score in front of the Kop, it is what dreams are made of. It is what I imagined it would be like from watching English football on television in Holland. It is a tough, strong league, hard to create chances but one I will adapt to.”

The £35m Kenny Dalglish paid Newcastle for Carroll is a thousand times more than the fee Bill Shankly offered Scunthorpe for Keegan in 1971.

“Robbery with violence,” Shankly called it, which is one of the few things Carroll has not been accused of during his turbulent few years at St James' Park.

“I know I have been in the headlines for the wrong reasons,” he said.

“When I have been travelling to Sunday games reading the papers on the way and looking at the headlines...” He doesn't need to finish the sentence before adding with a shy, charming smile. “But then I've gone and scored the winner at Arsenal.”

Nobody doubts Carroll's ability. It seems appropriate that in the same month they buried Nat Lofthouse, a rugged, muscular English centre forward, an heir to Alan Shearer, should become his country's most expensive footballer.

But there are some who think it a lot for a 22-year-old who has played half a season of Premier League football and whose life away from St James' Park deteriorated to the extent that a court ordered him to live with his club captain and best friend, Kevin Nolan.

Liverpool did not need much selling but Nolan, one of many footballers to have grown up in Toxteth, was a source of support before on a frantic transfer deadline day, he found himself in a helicopter belonging to the Newcastle owner, Mike Ashley, flying south.

Even with someone with a centre forward's natural confidence, it would have been a daunting journey. Carroll had watched the last seasons of Shearer's career from the Milburn Stand.

He knew what the number nine shirt meant at St James' Park and he had steeled himself to go into the manager's office and ask Chris Hughton for it. Had he stayed on Tyneside, his status as a local hero would have been guaranteed.

However, as his new partner, Suarez, pointed out: “Liverpool are always going to be known as one of the European greats. You only have to look at the trophies they have won — that image and that history goes before them.”

Carroll wanted something more. Liverpool and Newcastle are football cities; enclosed, tribal places, where a footballer is the highest form of celebrity. Only in silverware do they differ.

“I am aware the spotlight's on me,” he said.

“Given the money Liverpool have spent, whoever it was they bought was going to be followed around. I know they will be watching me. I am aware of that. I have to deal with it and take it in my stride.

“Newcastle was my home town. I loved it and I loved the fans. I am a working-class lad; I like going for a pint now and again but that's who I am and I am not really going to change.”

“Glasgow, Newcastle and Liverpool are very, very similar,” said Dalglish who has worked in all three.

“The history of the places themselves, the shipyards, the people, the fanaticism towards their football clubs. Andy is coming to similar surroundings to where he was brought up. It is a difficult thing to leave your home city and at 22 it will be massive for him.

“Apart from his ability as a footballer, what will be endearing to our supporters will be his innocence, his youth. They will accept him as one of their own.

“I'll tell you one thing, it is a sign of the boy's strength of character that he took the number nine shirt at Newcastle — the one Shearer wore. Nine at Newcastle is iconic.

“How good is he going to be? I don't know but right at this particular moment in time I would say he is as good as anyone who could play for the English national side. We hope he improves and develops even further and, if he does, we have a real player.”

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