Interview: Newcastle United chief scout Graham Carr

NEIL CAMERON speaks to the unsung hero finally getting the recognition for saving Newcastle United a fortune in the transfer market, via some astute scouting.

Newcastle United's chief scout Graham Carr
Newcastle United's chief scout Graham Carr

GRAHAM Carr finds the players. Alan Pardew moulds them into a team. Newcastle fans fall in love with their new heroes. It’s a formula that has worked wonders for the club since English football’s most famous chief scout arrived on Tyneside in February 2010.

It’s the reason why Carr may be the first 67-year-old in history to have been handed an eight-year contract extension, as he was by Newcastle owner Mike Ashley yesterday.

If something works and works quite brilliantly, then why would anyone want to change it?

Carr first found players for Chris Hughton – with Hatem Ben Arfa a sensation at St James’ Park, as has been Cheick Tioté  – and while the name on the manager’s office changed, the philosophy stayed the same.

Pardew came in and the bargain buys didn’t dry up. If anything they got better. Yohan Cabaye, Sylvain Marveaux, who has been unfortunate with injury, and then, in January, Papiss Cissé. That’s not a bad strike rate. It’s even better than Cissé’s.

That’s why Carr’s contribution to last season did not go un-noticed by the Toon Army, who welcomed yesterday’s announcement with delight.

However, the man himself was reluctant to be on the receiving end of so much praise and, in an interview with The Journal, was keen to point out that Pardew and his backroom team were the ones deserving of any pats on the back.

That they were the ones who, once his recommendation was signed, sealed and delivered, knew there was still some work to be done on the training ground.

And he paid tribute to Pardew’s own work ethic as one of the few Premier League managers who get themselves on a plane to check out a scout’s suggestion for himself.

Carr said: “It is my job to find players, however, Alan is the man who has to mould them into a team and he has done that brilliantly for Newcastle.

“He and his coaching staff deserve huge credit for the way they have gelled together a group from so many different backgrounds.

“Managers have a much different job these days to when I was in management. When I was at Northampton, for example, there wasn’t a single soul at the club in the afternoon. You had time to go scouting yourself. Now Alan has the media to deal with, for one thing, on an almost daily basis, there are double training sessions and, of course, most weeks there are games Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday.

“So the managers don’t have time to go and watch players like they used to and that where I, and my colleagues come in.

“However, Alan is different. No matter how hectic his schedule is he will find time to go to watch a player who I have recommended. That’s a great commitment.

“I have a fantastic relationship with Alan and that is so important. He trusts me and I think a reason for this is because he knows I was a manager.”

Scouting for a big football club does sound like the best job in the world.

Basically, you are paid to watch football.

But Carr admitted that there are times when after a drive to the airport, then a flight, taxi to the hotel, overnight stay and finally a drive to some stadium, it turns out the player he’s made such an effort to see isn’t much cop.

He said: “That does happen quite a bit and you have got to accept that.

“There have been times when I’ve wanted to leave a stadium after just 20 minutes because the guy I have come to watch is obviously not what we are looking for at Newcastle.

“But when you do see a player that fits then bill then, well, it’s fantastic.

“The buzz you get is when you look at someone – and Hatem Ben Arfa is the prime example – and after 20 minutes you are desperate to tell someone at the club that we need to get to this guy before someone else does.

“Hatem did a lot of research of his own, funnily enough. When we spoke to him, he then went away and researched Newcastle on the Internet; what the club was about, what the city was like.

“I’m really proud of Hatem and Yohan Cabaye being in the French squad.

“I am pretty sure that if Hatem had continued to rattle around the French league and had not come to Newcastle then he wouldn’t have made the European Championships.

“Cheick Tioté was another success. I went to see him at Roda JC (who he was no loan with before moving to Twente Enschede) and if we had been looking for a creative midfielder then we would not have gone for him.

“But Chris Hughton, who was manager at the time, wanted a defensive midfielder, so the club moved for Cheick for something like £4m. That was one which worked out really well.”

And then there is Cissé.

It would be fair to say that had the goal-machine not joined in January, then Newcastle may not have made it into the Europa League – 13 goals from just 14 games suggests this.

Carr said: “I had actually known about Papiss for some time. I did a lot of work with Metz, who have a Senegalese Academy, would you believe, and Papiss was there.

“This was a few years ago and the problem then was him not being able to get a work visa; I think there was an issue with his passport.

“Then the next thing you know he appears at Freiburg, so we went for him in January.

“Freiburg wanted £15m, which was out of our price range, then they went down to £12m and eventually £9m and we was ours.”

No wonder Newcastle fans took to Twitter, Facebook and any number of websites to register their delight at the news of a scout signing a long-term deal; not usually a story that provokes so much strong reaction.

Carr said: “That’s nice to hear because most fans have no idea who their club’s scout is and each one does work really hard.”

But none work harder and few are more successful. It could be thr signing of the summer right enough.

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