LIVERPOOL have placed a £20million price tag on Andy Carroll’s head, dimming hopes that the striker is set for an emotional return to St James’ Park.
Newcastle remain in the running to re-sign the Gateshead-born England international, but Liverpool’s fee looks prohibitive and the Anfield club are not keen on loaning him out first. Even Carroll’s obvious appetite for the move may not be enough to push it through with such differences between the two parties.
Somewhat curiously for a man who proclaims himself black and white to the core, there are always grey areas with Carroll and if he makes a stand when he returns from his holiday in Rio then the situation could change.
But as yesterday progressed, the momentum of the deal seemed to ebb.
Black-and-white optimism that they could lure Carroll back and complete a spectacular transfer coup seemed to be on the wane as word came from the upper echelons at St James’ Park that Liverpool are reluctant to do business with United.
Having got one £35million bloody nose from Newcastle in the initial negotiations, they are desperate not to have rings run round them again – and that will make further progress on this incredible deal difficult.
Newcastle’s stance is clear. They are adamant that they want a season-long loan deal with the option of a permanent deal woven in at the end of it – partially because they want to assess Carroll’s mindset and to see exactly what has happened to him during an unhappy 16 months on Merseyside.
He remains a potent attacking force on his day but, while Newcastle saw the best of him on the pitch, there is no appetite for the frequent fire-fighting exercises that they had to carry out when Carroll got into trouble off the field.
His form for Liverpool has been patchy, to be polite. But then, that is part of the appeal of the move to both Carroll and a hopeful Newcastle.
The England striker would return a damaged figure – but one with a point to prove, which makes him a dangerous and motivated addition.
Throw into the mix the fact that United’s famously cash-conscious power-brokers sniff the chance to extract their most spectacular deal yet and it is not hard to see why Newcastle will continue to pursue this one.
Their initial offer – submitted on Saturday – drew an indignant response from Anfield.
The Reds want to broker a permanent deal and will hope to draw West Ham United into the race.
Carroll is close to Hammers skipper Kevin Nolan and Sam Allardyce is very keen to bring him back.
West Ham may also have fewer reservations about the £20million fee.
Whether the player wants to move to the capital is another matter, especially given Carroll’s pretty clear desire to move back to the North East.
The feeling is mutual – and Newcastle’s interest in re-signing him began almost as soon as they let him go.
From the moment he left for Anfield in that contentious £35million move, there was informed talk that Carroll would be back some day.
United inserted a large sell-on clause that immediately put them in the driving seat if Liverpool would ever part with him for money – while Derek Llambias played a careful political game to ensure that the player was kept onside.
He used his programme notes to defend the player after abuse from visiting Newcastle supporters last year, while manager Alan Pardew has remained supportive and positive about Carroll through all of his travails.
You would have to be incredibly naive and singularly unfamiliar with the way the United hierarchy work to believe that this was not done with one eye on bringing him back some day.
Mike Ashley (pictured left) loves a deal and this would be the snip of the century, as well as a chance to give Liverpool another bloody nose and enhance the club’s reputation as master negotiators.
There are sound football reasons for the move, too.
At the back end of last season, in a more relaxed and informal setting, someone very senior at St James’ Park was asked about their experience of working with Carroll.
Potentially one of the best in the world, the reply shot back.
An absolute behemoth on his day with all the ability to develop into a British Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
But – and there is always a but with Carroll – there are occasions where it seems like advice goes in one ear and out of the other.
Can Pardew put that right and develop a system that gets the best out of Carroll, while also accommodating Papiss Cissé, Hatem Ben Arfa and Demba Ba – if the latter sticks around?
It is a big ask, but Pardew and his coaching staff have overcome bigger challenges.
It is the kind of problem the Premier League’s Manager of the Year might have longed for since the day that Carroll walked away from St James’ Park.
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