'Boys, I think Nando is done!' - Carroll, Torres, Suarez and the most dramatic transfer deadline day
During a crazy 24 hours exactly 10 years ago, Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez arrived at Anfield, as Fernando Torres departed for Chelsea
By the time the lights finally went off at Melwood, it was well past midnight.
The end of one of the most manic days in Liverpool’s recent history.
When the dust settled, there had been two new signings and one high-profile departure.
There was the record signing, the record sale and the arrival of a player who would go on to become one of the best to ever wear the famous red shirt.
The club’s official website had nearly crashed, Fenway Sports Group had made their first major moves in the transfer market and Kenny Dalglish had himself a brand new, £58 million ($80m) strike-force.
And all in the space of 24 hours.
Sunday marks 10 years since that wildest of transfer deadline days at Anfield. The day of Luis Suarez and Fernando Torres and Andy Carroll.
This is the story of Monday, January 31, 2011...
‘Boys, I think Nando is done!’
The day had started with a press conference, with Dalglish addressing the media ahead of his side’s game with Stoke later in the week.
By then, it was clear that there would be some serious business done. The deal to sign Suarez from Ajax was virtually completed, Liverpool having stolen a march on their rivals, namely Tottenham, to secure the Uruguayan for what looked, even at the time, like a bargain fee of just under £23m ($31.5m). Suarez was due to arrive from Amsterdam that morning to sign his contract and complete his in-house media duties.
Torres, though, was heading for the exit. Disillusioned with life on Merseyside, the Spaniard’s form had dipped and his mood had changed. Chelsea had tried to sign him the previous summer and now, with the January deadline fast approaching, the Londoners were back.
“You could sense that he wanted the move,” remembers Jay Spearing, then a 22-year-old midfielder who had just broken into the Reds’ first-team picture under Dalglish.
“It had been bubbling for a while, the talk was getting louder and louder and you could see a change in him. He wasn’t the Nando we knew before. His body language changed, he spent more time on the physio bed, and he just seemed so quiet in himself.”
Chelsea’s initial bid, of £35m ($48m) plus add-ons, had been received and rejected the previous Thursday, with Damien Comolli, Liverpool’s newly-appointed director of football strategy, choosing to hold firm despite word from Torres’ camp that the player would indeed like to leave.
Comolli’s patience worked. Chelsea came back, eventually submitting an offer £50m ($68m) which Liverpool accepted. It was to be a record fee between two British clubs, and easily the biggest sale in Reds history.
Torres had – bizarrely, given the circumstances – been scheduled to give an interview to the club’s official magazine on deadline day. The reporter in question had arrived at Melwood early, but quickly deduced that El Nino would not be his cover star.
The sight of Torres’ agent, Antonio Sanz, in the training ground lobby only confirmed his suspicions. Melwood, he observed, felt like an airport departure lounge that day, with people coming and going, phones glued to ears and a growing sense of urgency everywhere.
Dalglish had, in typical fashion, offered nothing to reporters eager for an update at his press conference – except for confirmation that Paul Konchesky was on his way to Nottingham Forest on loan - but the wheels were already well in motion for Torres’ transfer. A helicopter had been sourced to take him to London for his medical, while the player bid a sombre farewell to his Liverpool team-mates.
“I remember Pepe Reina coming in to the canteen,” says Spearing. “He said ‘Boys, I think Nando is done!’ And then Nando came in and said his goodbyes.
“He still had a lot of close friends at the club, the likes of Pepe, Lucas [Leiva], Maxi [Rodriguez] especially, so I think he was quite emotional saying farewell. Probably nowadays it’d just be done over WhatsApp, wouldn’t it? But he did it face to face.”
On his way out of Melwood, and somewhat symbolically, Torres would meet the man who would succeed him as the darling of the Kop. By sheer coincidence, Suarez was just arriving in a blacked-out people carrier as Torres made his way to his. The pair embraced and briefly exchanged pleasantries, before heading their separate ways.
The end of an era, and the start of a new one…
‘My brother had to have the cat’
As Torres headed for Stamford Bridge, and as Suarez finalised his arrival on Merseyside, up in Newcastle another spectacular move was brewing.
Andy Carroll had enjoyed an impressive first half to the season, scoring 11 goals including a spectacular clincher in a 3-1 win over Liverpool at St James’ Park six weeks previously. Just 22, and despite a rather chequered off-field reputation, he was hot property.
He wasn’t expecting a transfer, though. He was injured at the time and had signed a new five-year contract only a couple of months earlier. He was a Tyneside lad, Newcastle’s No.9. He was happy.
So, when he woke up on transfer deadline day and headed for a gym session with Derek Wright, the Newcastle physio, he had no idea that his life was about to be turned upside down.
Torres’ exit meant Liverpool, even with Suarez, were a striker light. Comolli was keen to sign Mario Gomez, then of Bayern Munich, but the Germany international’s wage demands meant it was a non-starter.
Nicolas Anelka was also linked. The Liverpool ECHO led its back page with suggestions of a part-exchange for Torres on deadline day, but in truth that deal was never likely.
Comolli also explored the possibility of signing midfielder Charlie Adam from Blackpool, but felt the price-tag was too high. Liverpool would eventually return for Adam, at a lower price, that summer following Blackpool’s relegation from the Premier League.
The Carroll idea came up late in the window, as Comolli explained recently to The Athletic.
"The night before deadline day, I had a call from someone who had nothing to do with transfers saying 'I've heard from Newcastle's chairman, who will entertain the sale of Andy Carroll,'” he said.
"I kind of agreed a deal with Newcastle that night, and the next day they read in the paper how much we were getting for Torres, so they changed the deal and increased it by £5m ($7m) which absolutely drove me crazy!”
After lengthy discussions, including a round-table conference call with Liverpool’s owners in Boston, it was decided that Liverpool would give Newcastle what they wanted. The fee, £35m ($47m) was a record for a British player, and would make Carroll the eighth most expensive footballer in history. He had played 41 top-flight games.
“We knew we paying over the odds for Andy,” said Comolli. “But he was young, he was English and at the time I told them [the owners] that if it doesn't work out, we could sell him for £20m ($27m) to West Ham, back to Newcastle or to Aston Villa.
"The scenario I had in my mind at the time was either he's a massive hit and success, or he was not but there was some money still to be made. We knew we were overpaying but we were also getting incredible money for Torres and Chelsea were grossly overpaying as well.”
And so things accelerated, and Carroll got the shock of his life when news of Liverpool’s move flashed across his television screen.
“It was mad,” he told Newcastle’s official website recently. “I was on the bike and it came up on Sky Sports – £20m bid rejected, £25m, £30m…
“Everyone was coming in saying, ‘What’s happening?’, and I was like, basically, 'I’m not going anywhere, I’ve got a new contract here.'
“And then suddenly it was, ‘go and see the gaffer’. I went to see the gaffer [Alan Pardew]. I literally got out in [Newcastle captain] Kev Nolan’s car. Kev took us to his house, and next thing I knew I was in a helicopter to Liverpool.”
While in the helicopter, Carroll set about finding out a little bit more about his potential new team-mates.
“I was like, ‘I know Stevie G, I know Carragher. Who else?’” he said. “My agent at the time had to tell me, and I would get it on Google and find out the team.
“It’s bad because it’s Liverpool players, but it’s not disrespectful – I just literally didn’t watch football, so I didn’t know.
“I wasn’t ready at all. I went down there and it was like a whirlwind.
“I was happy, I’d signed a new deal, and the next day I was gone. I’d just bought a house and, believe it or not, I’d just got a cat. It was in the house, and I never went back to the house. I left in the helicopter and my brother had to have the cat!’
To the wire
It was dark when a cat-less Carroll eventually arrived on Merseyside, to be whisked straight to Melwood, past a throng of photographers, cameramen and a fast-expanding group of supporters.
“Do you know what? I was injured at the time and all I was thinking was, ‘Please, just fail the medical’,” Carroll told the Daily Mail recently.
“The minute I got on that helicopter I wanted to come back. All the way, I'm thinking, ‘What is happening? What am I doing?’”
Despite a late wrangle with his then-agent, Mark Curtis, Carroll’s signing was eventually confirmed shortly before the 11pm deadline, with Torres’ switch to Chelsea announced soon after it. Suarez’s had been finalised earlier in the evening, with the Uruguayan taking Torres’ place as the interviewee for the official magazine. Small mercies, for the journalist who had spent the best part of 12 hours at the training ground.
It was certainly a busy day for the club’s media staff. Liverpool’s official website ended up straining due to the number of people visiting it. Staff remember having to revert to a simple landing page which contained all three stories. Most were working until well after midnight, having started early for Dalglish’s press conference. “The coffee machine got hammered,” remembers one former employee.
Liverpool’s players, meanwhile, were left similarly bewildered by the day’s events.
“We had no inkling whatsoever on Carroll,” remembers Jay Spearing. “Maybe one or two of the senior players might had, but the rest of us definitely didn’t.
“I had a load of mates texting asking if we were going to sign a striker, because we knew we were getting good money for Torres, but I didn’t have a clue! Then when I got back from training and stuck Sky on, the talk of Carroll had started up.
“There was a buzz about Suarez. We’d seen what he’d done at the World Cup the previous summer, and we knew he’d done well at Ajax too, so there was excitement there. Then, all of a sudden, there’s another massive signing. It was mad how it all turned it out. I definitely remember being excited to get in for training the next day!”
Hits and misses
Suarez would be the first to make an impact at his new club. Though nowhere near match-fit – he hadn’t play for Ajax in almost two months due to a suspension for biting PSV Eindhoven’s Ottman Bakkal – he would make his Liverpool debut as a second-half substitute against Stoke on February 2, 2011, scoring inside 16 minutes of his arrival. It was the first of 82 goals in 132 appearances for the club.
“His first training session set the tone for everything,” Spearing remembers. “He was just a winner. He was incredible.
“I was very fortunate to train with both Suarez and Torres, and if I had to choose one over the other, I’d pick Suarez. Day to day, he was 100 miles an hour, commitment, desire, work-rate, winning mentality. He never changed, and his performances were just unreal.”
Torres, meanwhile, would have to wait a few more days for his Chelsea bow, and in one of those strange quirks of fate it would come against Liverpool at Stamford Bridge.
Booed mercilessly by the travelling Reds fans, he endured a miserable afternoon. He was roughed up by Daniel Agger and Jamie Carragher, and was substituted midway through the second half as Chelsea lost courtesy of Raul Meireles’ goal.
He would go on to win the Champions League, among other things, in West London, but in many ways the tone was set on that debut appearance. With only 45 goals in 172 appearances, compared to 81 in 142 at Liverpool, he is remembered as a disappointment by Blues fans. He never again reached the heights he scaled at Anfield.
An abiding memory is of him standing, glum-faced, at Wembley waiting to collect his FA Cup winners’ medal in 2012. Chelsea had beaten Liverpool, but Torres, the record signing, was an unused substitute.
As for Carroll, he fared even worse in terms of goal return, finishing with 11 in 58 Liverpool appearances. His helped the Reds win the League Cup, but lasted just one full season on Merseyside, his time blighted by injuries and ended when Brendan Rodgers took over from Dalglish in the summer of 2012. "Not a Liverpool player," was Rodgers' first assessment, though Carroll, for his part, spoke of "mixed messages" from the new manager.
"He was telling me one thing to my face," he told The Times back in 2015, "then I’d leave the training ground and he would ring me and tell me a completely different thing."
Comolli had departed by then, sacked in part due to the perceived failure of his big-money signings, but he would be proven right in one sense. Carroll was eventually sold by Liverpool, at a loss, to West Ham, just as he had predicted.
“I have nothing but respect for Andy,” says Jay Spearing. “People say it didn’t work out for him at Liverpool, and maybe the price-tag brought pressure he didn’t need at the time, but he left some good memories at the club.
“He scored some big goals. I remember a great strike against Manchester City and a late winner at Blackburn, he scored the winner against Everton in an FA Cup semi, scored in the final [against Chelsea] and probably should have had another one that day too.
“I still speak to him now. He’s a great lad, he was great in the dressing room too.”
Fast forward to the present day, and Liverpool could be busy again on deadline day. Jurgen Klopp has admitted a new centre-back is needed, and the club are expected to be busy right up until Monday’s 11pm cut-off.
They’ll have to go some way to match the drama of 2011, though.
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