Andy Carroll was meant to change everything for Mike Ashley’s Newcastle.
As it turned out, it did – just not in the way that any of us expected. Carroll’s £35m sale to Liverpool was brilliant business from Ashley and former managing director Derek Llambias, who refused to blink and ended up squeezing the Moneyball regime at Anfield for at least £15m more than the England striker was reasonably worth.
For all that it caused the area to ruminate on why the North East’s brightest invariably seek pastures new to further their careers, the logic of Llambias and Ashley has been borne out by subsequent events. In this correspondent’s opinion, it is the best price negotiated for a player in Premier League history.
But what we thought it taught us about Newcastle – indeed about the owner who oversaw that incredible deal – has proved to be inaccurate. Increasingly the sale of Carroll – an explosive, boom-or-bust decision from an owner prepared to take huge risks – looks like an anomaly in an era that has set sail for mediocrity.
For all that the Carroll sale opened wounds on Tyneside at the time, subsequent events proved that it was not a move borne of a desire to hoard money. A summer of empowering the club’s influential scouting department reaped huge rewards, with Demba Ba, Yohan Cabaye and eventually Papiss Cisse taking the club forward from the functional but effective side that Carroll was part of.
Since then? Talk of “one or two signings” a year, bonuses for top 10 and the FA Cup. Ashley’s obvious desire to push the club towards self-suficiency is hardly crime of the century, but a bit of the brio that led to the Carroll decision would be welcome again at St James’ Park.
Who would have thought that at the time, when Newcastle seemed to be establishing a very narrative by selling Carroll?
A selling club, it seemed to scream. But the perception of Newcastle as willing to cash in their chips at the first opportunity – indeed the idea that Ashley’s blueprint is to buy cheap and sell expensive – has proved completely misleading. Since Carroll’s departure, United have retained rather than relinquished their crown jewels: rebuffing serious interest in Cheick Tiote, Cabaye and Fabricio Coloccini in the three years since Carroll’s dramatic exit on January deadline day.
Whatever the consequences of the decision to sell their homegrown striker, the decision – looking back – was vindicated entirely by what has happened in the meantime.
The £35m that United banked for Carroll looks like a better figure with every transfer window that passes while the player’s own career – although catching the imagination in bright, brilliant bursts – has not blossomed. He lines up for West Ham today carrying the hopes of Pardew’s former club on his broad shoulders but yet to fulfil the promise that towers like one of his trademark headers.
“(It was) three years ago. He had a good spell at Liverpool for a 10-game period,” Pardew reflected yesterday.
“I just think he is a terrific player and has been unlucky with injuries. He plays a brand of football that fans like. He’s aggressive in the right way and a real threat from any cross into the box. I really like him. I was very disappointed to see him go that year and it left us very vulnerable – although the figure was so high.
“I have only got good feelings for Andy. I hope his career settles down a bit and his career progresses.”
Not that they were ever going to turn that kind of money down, but today’s game against a direct West Ham offers a chance for Newcastle supporters to reflect on what might-have-been if Carroll had not gone.
There won’t be too many wishing that he hadn’t been sold although Carroll himself might pause for regret. A hometown boy who used to head back to the North East frequently when he was playing for Liverpool, he had been keen to come back to Newcastle when it first became clear that the Reds were willing to cut their losses and let him go.
That didn’t happen, of course – Newcastle wanted a loan with no onus on them to sign him last season, while West Ham’s deal was always likely to lead to a permanent deal at some point – but Pardew insists there are absolutely no regrets about how the move came about.
He also suggested that Carroll wouldn’t be looking back in anger.
“Possibly, obviously it will have (been different if he’d stayed),” the United manager said.
“The scenario would have been different, but I don’t think at the time we could turn the offer down and certainly on Andy’s side, I don’t think he could have turned it down. I don’t think there are any regrets there, I don’t think Andy would have changed it.
“He’d do the same thing, he would have just wanted to have stayed a little bit fitter in that period.”
In the here and now, Pardew’s bigger short-term concern is arresting a run of four defeats that has checked pre-Christmas optimism.
Newcastle need to collect points quickly to remain in the frame for European qualification, and Upton Park represents a venue where they will be expected to pick something up.
With Newcastle headed for the United Arab Emirates for warm-weather training in the days after the game, the need for a victory seems timely. Pardew said: “I just feel we are a little bit frustrated about that because I think we have played well enough not to have four defeats next to our name. The only way to deal with it is to go to the next game at West Ham, if we lose it will be five and you’ll be sure to remind me.
“I look at the performance level and I look at the group and I can’t see a lot wrong. That won’t reflect very well if I’m saying that in another seven games.
“Looking at the stats I don’t think the players will be anything but confident coming out of that. We would never normally lose a game with those stats. That’s a real one-off and just goes to show the quality of Man City, not just in their attacking play but their defensive play as well.”