THE wounds are still raw, the pain still fresh, but if Newcastle United’s decision to sell Andy Carroll to Liverpool on transfer deadline day was a controversial football decision, it was a cracking piece of business.
That doesn’t mean anyone has to agree with it, but from a strictly financial point of view, Newcastle have just sold a largely unproven player with a chequered personal life for a staggering profit.
The theory behind the call, so we are led to believe, is to reinvest all of that money back into the team, funding the purchase of three or four new players in the summer, enabling the squad to gradually strengthen. All well and good, in theory. Only time will tell if it works in practice. For now, the blame game rages.
Carroll says he was forced out, the club insist he demanded a move. Did the club really fight hard enough to keep him? If he was asking for more money to reflect a new-found market value of more than £30m, surely they could have paid it to keep their best player?
Yet, why did Carroll not wait until the summer to renegotiate a contract that already earned him almost £30,000 a week, a five-and-a-half-year deal he only signed back in October? If he loved the club and wanted to stay so much, why didn’t he do just that?
The dust will eventually settle. Newcastle United will move on, survive and hopefully prosper, while Carroll tries to justify a price tag that makes him the most expensive British footballer after just 41 Premier League games.
Nevertheless, having produced and groomed one multi-million pound superstar, there is already an expectancy for another to emerge from the ranks.
When Mike Ashley took over, we were told the emphasis would be on youth. The development of the club’s own players was the number one priority.
It is not just about selling them on for a profit – although this obviously helps – it about creating players with an affinity for the club who have their best years in front of, rather than behind, them.
Supporters will hope that, one day, the likes of Carroll are not merely sold to the highest bidder, but at the moment this is the business model.
“I don’t think this club had done well enough in the past,” said development coach Willie Donachie, the former Scotland international who works with the youth team graduates following their promotion to the senior squad. “But if the club is willing to take it seriously, which I believe they are, then the potential is huge.
“They do seem to be genuinely committed to youth, but only time will really tell. It’s Joe Joyce (Academy Manager) who has to do the asking, but they are more and more supportive.
“Spending a lot of money on under-achieving players has cost this club a lot of money.
“The owner feels, if we can produce our own, a lot of them from the local area, who genuinely care, it will help improve the club.
“It’s a financial investment as well, they will save themselves millions and they will earn themselves millions. If you can produce one or two players for the first-team squad every year, it is a fantastic way for the business to be run.”
That word ‘business’ does not sit well with supporters who have no desire to think of their football club in terms of profit margins or themselves as customers.
But that is the reality of the situation. Football clubs are big business and Newcastle are being run to operate within their means. It may cause some to question the extent of their ambition, but until a Roman Abramovich or a Sheikh Mansour materialises, it is the only way they can hope to succeed.
Although a Carroll may only appear once in a lifetime, the club can save millions in the transfer market if a steady stream of youngsters are bolstering the squad each year.
It is the way Arsenal have done things for more than a decade, difficult to replicate, but, according to Donachie, it is achievable.
He said: “There is vast potential and there are good people working here, that is what attracted me. The area, there are so many kids.
“If you compare it to, say, Blackburn in the north west, they are competing with 18 other clubs. There is only ourselves in the whole of Northumberland. There is Sunderland, of course, but they are on the other side of the river so our natural catchment area is huge.
“As an Academy, how we measure success is quite broad. At domestic level it is about getting them to progress and to develop into successful men.
“The number one target is to develop them into good footballers, but it is about more than that. It’s about providing them with an education, values and skills that will serve them well in life.
“For me, in my role, it’s about trying to make sure individuals are moving forward and getting that little bit closer to making an impact in the first team. All of the players who helped us reach the semi-final of the FA Youth Cup, ten of them have gone up to the first team as young pros, but they have still got to make the biggest leap of all, which is from reserve-team football to first team. “Most of them won’t, but I’m pretty confident all of them will end up with a career in League football. For me, that would be success. There are 18-year-olds with the emotional age of a 14-year-old, sometimes less.
“The players I work with have got their first professional contract, but there is so much they still have to do. It’s a vital age.”
Some of these young men are already earning more than their parents. Even raw hopefuls at Premier League clubs are well rewarded, but many of them will never make the grade in the Premier League, let alone become a Carroll.
Some will flatter to deceive, earn plenty of cash, but never live up to their early potential before drifting down the leagues and out of the game.
These are the ones that cause Donachie the biggest headaches. He said: “We have to try to keep them motivated.
“We are trying to get them to realise the top players and the good professionals are always challenging themselves.
“If they’re not in the team, they are waiting for the chance and they make sure they are in the best possible shape, mentally and physically, to take it. The players who haven’t got that, the ones who aren’t motivated, they tend to drift quietly out of the game.
“They are learning a craft here and they need to master their art. They have to become master craftsman, that is what we are trying to teach them.”
Crossroads for United Academy
NEWCASTLE United will have to decide how seriously they are taking their commitment to youth if a new Premier League scheme goes ahead.
As things stand, all the Premier League Academies are on a level-footing, but that is about to change with the creation of a small elite which, like its senior counterparts, will benefit from playing European football alongside domestic competitions.
Magpies development coach Willie Donachie said: “The Premier League are intending to bring in new categories for Academies and to be a category one Academy you have to have either a school on sight, or a local school where the 14-year-olds go as well as train with you every day.
“It’s a massive commitment in terms of the money, not just because of the money needed to get the players, but also in terms of the staff you need to offer support to these kids.
“If you have category one status you can sign kids from anywhere, but you also need to be able to look after them all the way through and they are boys. You need specialist staff to look after all the different age groups.
“It hasn’t been decided yet, but you have to be able to commit a lot to do it. It could be a massive initiative for this club.
“Joe Joyce is looking into it and it is a big decision for the club. If it happens, they will be playing in a mini European Championship as well as the other Academies.
“It would be great experience for them. You only get to be the best by playing against the best. You only learn from experience and it would help. The only way you learn is playing against different players and better players.”