On the face of it, £35 million for a striker with just 14 Premier League goals to his name, half a season of top-flight pedigree and with more than his fair share of off-field trouble is an absolute steal for Newcastle. Two years ago, if you had told us we would receive that much for the player we’d have been running all the way bank with both sets of hands.
Yet still this deal leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. For a start, who honestly believes this money will be spent on players? No, my money is on the back pockets of Ashley getting 35 million times heavier before he plans his sale of the club if and when we stay up. Which suddenly looks like a much greater ‘if’ now our top scorer and arguably best player has gone.
But perhaps the biggest problem which stems out of this sale is what it symbolises. And that is a sheer lack of ambition. I wasn’t around in the ‘80s, but I’ve heard all about the conveyor belt of Geordie talent (Gascoigne, Beardsley, Waddle) which was shipped out of St. James’ Park as soon as the big guns opened up their chequebooks. And certainly the signs are familiar.
In Carroll, Tiote, Ben Arfa, Enrique, Taylor, Barton and Krul, Newcastle had the spine of a team which, coupled with older heads like Nolan and Coloccini, could go far in years to come. Yet, when the futures of Enrique, Barton and Tiote in particular have already been thrown into doubt under the emerging interest of Man United, Chelsea et al, it now seems more likely than ever that every player has his price under the Ashley era.
All three of the aforementioned players are about to open negotiations on new deals, but will Carroll’s sale now put them off doing so? What does it say about the ambition of club? Does it really want to be challenging for top honours and be back in Europe in a couple of years or does the hole in Ashley’s pockets burn more than his desire to be back amongst the Premiership elite?
In a season which began with Newcastle one of the favourites to go down, the players have performed exceptionally well to climb into a healthy mid-table position just shy of the European places. In many games they have sacrificed heart and soul in order to compete with expensively assembled teams, and have even notched up their own performance levels in the absence of Carroll.
But now that he has gone (or is going), this is no longer a stop-gap and they will no doubt be left to plug away until the end of the season with a trimmed squad which was already light before the transfer window began. And not for the first time will they feel like they have been stabbed in the back by the board after Hughton’s sacking earlier in the season.
They have every right to feel like they are owed by the board. Granted, footballers are on huge wages and 100% commitment should be the least of requirements but we don’t live in an idealistic world, and the application shown this season has been nothing short of outstanding with only a few blips along the way. They have already dug Ashley out of a hole on more than one occasion, and now they may feel like they have it all to do again.
Should they be offered the chance to go to a bigger club in the summer, they may now ask why should they resist the opportunity after the way they have been treated. Of course, we are likely to hear off Pardew that “he is going nowhere while I am here” and Llambias that “he is here for the long term and we want to build the team around him”, but why should we EVER listen to a word coming out of the club? If they had not already proven that they are a bunch of liars and hypocrites, then at least we now know for certain.
So £35 million may look to the outsider like the deal of the century for Newcastle, but as fans we all know what it really means.