After making five appearances for the first team from the bench, as well as a hattrick for the Reserves against Middlesbrough, 18-year-old Andy Carroll was rewarded with a four-year deal with his boyhood club, Newcastle United.
“I am delighted to sign the new contract and I hope to have a great future at Newcastle United,” he said. “It has always been my dream to play for the club as a local lad. I know I am only a young lad and I have to keep working very hard and listen to what the manager and the staff are telling me. Every time I get a chance, I will be putting myself about and doing my very best to impress.”
For the fans, getting to see a local lad and supporter of the club come up through the ranks and play for the first team is about as satisfying as it gets. They are living the dream, wearing the shirt and scoring goals on your behalf (and winning you bets on Betfair Premier League to boot), so you are far more invested in them than you are in the players that show up for you on a Saturday because your club offered to pay them more money than any other. You want them to make it, you’re desperate for them to be good enough and you take so much more pleasure from every goal they score.
Carroll scored his first goal for the club in a 2-2 draw against West Ham to salvage a point for his team ten minutes from time.
“That is something I will cherish for all my life and something I have dreamed of since I was a little boy,” he said. “It was the best feeling in the world. I grew up watching Shearer. I had a season ticket to watch him and he was just scoring goal after goal. Alan was brilliant to watch as a kid and before he retired I had a training session with him, that was unbelievable.”
Two months later, after becoming a more regular starter and scoring another goal, this time in a 2-1 defeat against Manchester City, Carroll was rewarded with an improved contract which expired in 2013.
“I’m over the moon to get my future sorted and there was never any doubt I would sign a new deal,” he said. “This is where I want to play my football and this season has been a dream for me. My first goal for my hometown club was amazing and I hope to score many more in the future.”
Carroll played in a further six games before the end of the season, scoring a seemingly crucial equaliser against Stoke City nine minutes from time after coming off the bench. He couldn’t save Newcastle from relegation though, with his boyhood hero, Shearer, leading them to just one victory from the eight games he took charge of.
Whilst it was devastating for Newcastle, it was just the start for Carroll, who went on to score 19 goals in 42 games the following season. In the Championship, only five players scored more goals than the 21-year-old, as he helped his team secure promotion, with the Geordies amassing 102 points over the course of the season. Michael Owen, Mark Viduka and Obafemi Martins all left when they were relegated, meaning Carroll was in the first XI which gave him the time and confidence he needed to build on his game.
Stoke and Birmingham were rumoured to be interested in making offers of £6m for Carroll but before they had the chance to be rebuffed, the striker made it clear he was staying put. “This is where I’m from and Newcastle are the only team for me,” he said.
Before the Premier League season began, Carroll’s performances in the Championship were rewarded with Newcastle’s legendary number 9 shirt.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” he said. “I’m immensely proud and really it’s an unbelievable feeling. When you look at the fantastic players down the years who have worn the shirt, it sends shivers down your spine, it’s amazing. Having grown up following and watching the team, I’m obviously aware of the great tradition the number nine shirt holds. It’s probably unique in football in that sense and, as I say, to be wearing it, is incredible. Alan Shearer was my idol as a young lad, and who would have thought I would be following in his footsteps? It’s every young Geordie lad’s dream to be a Newcastle United number nine and I’m so lucky to be given that chance. It’s an opportunity I relish and intend doing my utmost to do the shirt proud.”
Carroll started the season in great form, showing he wasn’t just paying lip service to his ambitions of filling Shearer’s boots, scoring an impressive 11 goals in the first 18 league games. In early October, he signed yet another contract extension which should have seen him at the club until 2015.
“All I have ever wanted to do was to play for Newcastle United,” he said. “That’s been the case since I was a teenager, playing for the juniors and reserves, and it’s still the same now. Every time I put on the black and white, even more so now that I have the number nine on my back, it means the world to me so to be able to do that for at least the next five years is brilliant.”
His performances even earned him an England call up and he made his début against France in a 2-1 defeat. Newcastle fans were entitled to be excited about this lad. No, there couldn’t ever be another Shearer, but Carroll was looking like he could become the next best thing. Unlike Shearer though, Carroll had made his way up through the ranks of the club, which certainly added to his potential to become a legend.
So, where did it all go wrong? Whilst it’s easy to be cynical and say that all footballers are money hungry mercenaries, it is clear that Newcastle meant so much to him for a large chunk of his life. If someone had told him the evening after he had scored his first goal or after he had been given the number 9 shirt that soon he would be handing in a transfer request to join Liverpool, he would never have believed them. But all it takes is a few whispers in the ear, a sense of entitlement, getting too cocky and big for their boots, before the things that once seemed so important eventually take a back seat.
Three months after penning a contract extension, Carroll signed for Liverpool on transfer deadline day for £35m, making him the most expensive English player of all time.
Despite handing in a transfer request, Carroll was keen to push the notion that he had wanted to stay at Newcastle but had been forced out, with the club deeming £35m too much money to turn down.
“I was in talks about a new contract and talking to the gaffer about that,” he told the Evening Chronicle. “He told me that they are now not going to give me a contract. That was as soon as the offer of £30m came in. So I asked why (I wasn’t getting a new contract) and he said his hands were tied. He said it wasn’t up to him. Then a £35m bid got accepted and then I was allowed to talk to Liverpool. The owner then made it clear to me that I was not wanted at the club. Saying that his own helicopter is waiting for me to go down to talk to them. So being shown I’m not wanted I said OK I will talk to them. Then suddenly the bid was rejected and then Derek asked me to hand in a transfer request. So I was pushed into a corner and had no choice. Then I flew down in his (Ashley’s) helicopter. I didn’t want to leave. I’m gutted that I wasn’t wanted at my home team after everything I’ve done and progress I’ve made. I didn’t want to leave at all. Make sure they know I didn’t want to leave. The players, staff and fans were fantastic.”
However, this story was contradicted by manager Alan Pardew and managing director Derek Llambias, who claimed that Carroll issued them with an ultimatum, wanting a new and improved contract or he was off, despite signing one three months earlier.
“We didn’t force anybody to leave,” Pardew told the Shields Gazette. “He had a contract here for five years, and at some point it would get renewed, but for him to sign in October and it get renewed in January – where would it stop? Personally, I’m disappointed. He’s a lovely lad, and I really like him, but it was his decision, and you can’t change that. Was this about football? That’s what you have to ask. I don’t think it was. We turned down a big offer, and they came back with a second big offer. We were having a discussion about what we were going to do with that offer when Andy requested to see me. I went to see Andy, and face to face we had a conversation about him wanting a new contract, even though he signed on in October, and if he didn’t get that contract, he wanted go. I asked him what he wanted, and I went to the board. We had a discussion about what the ramifications would be for the whole club. We took the view, with him signing a contract in October, that this would cause us all sorts of problems. We decided that we needed the conversation confirmed, and he put in a transfer request, which he did. He spoke to his agent, and between them they put the request in. We never put him up for sale – we fended off a bid from another Premiership club, but no club’s about one player. We’re absolutely gutted that he’s gone.”
Llambias supported Pardew’s claims and insisted that Newcastle had already turned down massive offers for Carroll, which would suggest they were serious about holding on to the player.
“We didn’t push Andy Carroll out, far from it – he asked to go,” he said. “The fact is Mike Ashley didn’t want to sell him, it’s not like he needs the money is it? And remember we turned down bids of £30m and then £35m from Liverpool. That’s serious money for a 22-year-old with only six months’ experience in the Premier League. But finally Mike’s point of view was the player’s put in a transfer request, so what can we do? Andy was already earning top money at the club after signing a new deal recently. But he said he’d been offered £80,000-a-week from Liverpool and asked what we would pay to make him stay. We told him the club just couldn’t afford to give him a deal like that, nothing close. And when we said ‘No’ – well, that’s when he put in his transfer request. Yes, he went in our helicopter. But the sooner the deal was done the sooner we could make our own moves in the transfer market. It was already very late.”
We weren’t there, we can’t say conclusively what happened, but it is hard to believe Carroll’s version of events in light of his transfer request. There were no benefits to him handing one in and the likelihood is he missed out on a “loyalty” bonus because of it. Why on earth would he hand in a transfer request, just because the club asked him to, if he didn’t want to join Liverpool? It doesn’t make any sense. It is also unlikely that Newcastle were negotiating a new contract with him, given he had signed one just three months earlier, other than the possibility of Pardew telling him they might be able to offer him more once he told them Liverpool were offering him £80k-a-week. As soon as the club confirmed they couldn’t match Liverpool’s salary that, to him, was the end of the “contract talks”.
Still, the money was too good to turn down and I’m sure Mike Ashley wasn’t shedding a tear when the £35m deal was finalised. It was obviously a reactionary move on Liverpool’s part, having just sold Fernando Torres to Chelsea for £50m. “The way we look at it is that Andy cost us minus £15m, and you can’t say that was a bad buy,” Kenny Dalglish comically claimed later. Whilst English players always seem to cost more when sold between Premier League clubs, it is extraordinary that Liverpool paid such a vast sum for a player who had scored just 14 Premier League goals in his career. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that both Damien Comolli, their Director of Football Strategy at the time, and Dalgish have both been sacked since.
“When I knew [Liverpool’s interest] was real and that there was a chance for me to come here I knew it was a great opportunity and I had to take it,” Carroll said. “Liverpool is a big club which is going places and this is a chance to show what I can do. What I did at Newcastle has got me here and now I have to carry it on with Liverpool. It’s a great feeling. The No.9 is a big number and the one I wanted. To get it at Liverpool is a great feeling. Liverpool is a massive club and it’s nice to be wanted by a club like this.”
Whilst it seemed as though it could all be written in the stars when the Geordie lad took on Shearer’s number 9, it was also fitting that he took the shirt of Fernando Torres when he joined Liverpool, the player his former fans also now referred to as “Judas”.
Carroll scored for England a couple of months later but Liverpool had to wait until April before he scored for them, putting two away against Manchester City. “It was just a stepping stone to go forward and produce more goals for us,” Dalglish said after the game. They would be the only goals Carroll scored that season though and they had to wait until October for him to score in the league again, scoring in their 2-0 win over Everton at Goodison.
On his first return to St James Park he was greeted with boos, with his transition from hero to villain complete.
“I was disappointed with the very negative treatment some of our supporters gave our former number nine Andy Carroll,” said Llambias after the game. “Andy faced a barrage of insults from a section of fans in the stadium which he most certainly did not deserve. The abuse he received was difficult to stomach after everything Andy brought to our club, and I only hope he didn’t pay too much attention to the taunts being directed at him from the stands. To go from hero to villain simply for moving clubs, which is just part and parcel of football, is beyond me.”
There have been some high points in Carroll’s Liverpool career so far, most notably the late winner against Everton in the FA Cup semi-final and consolation goal in the FA Cup final defeat against Chelsea. He also won a trophy, lifting the League Cup after being subbed off in injury time before Liverpool beat Cardiff 3-2 on penalties. However, you couldn’t argue he’s produced anything like what you would expect from a £35m player. He’s scored 6 league goals in 42 games since his move which is pretty dire. He can thank his lucky stars that Torres has had an equally torrid time at Chelsea, scoring 7 league goals in his 46 games, which has softened the blow for Liverpool fans. At least their Judas is doing as badly as Newcastle’s.
Newcastle went on to finish 5th last season, with their considerably cheaper strikers, Papiss Cissé (£8m) and Demba Ba (free), finishing the 7th and 10th highest scorers in the league with 29 goals between them. Liverpool finished 13 points behind them in 8th.
At the end of his first full season in Merseyside he travelled with England to play in Euro 2012 and scored their opening goal in the group stage victory over Sweden. He didn’t set the world alight, none of the team did, but he looked decent enough. After a stronger end to the season, scoring goals in those big FA Cup games, you’d think Brendan Rodger, who replaced the sacked Dalglish, would be keen to work out a way to incorporate Carroll in to his team and his style of play. Not so. In the first interview he gave on Carroll, he said he would be open to loaning the striker out.
“It’s something I would have to look at, I have to be honest,” he said. “I’m not going to sit here and say I will never let anyone go on loan, then come in here in two weeks and a player’s gone, and you’re saying ‘you said you wouldn’t let them go’. There are many things to going on loan. Is it going to be beneficial for the club? That’s the most important thing. Sometimes a player going out on loan – in general, not just Andy – can benefit the club in the long term.”
A few weeks later, after obviously being told that Carroll would not be going anywhere on loan, Rodgers changed his tune somewhat, but made it clear Liverpool would still consider any offers for the player.
“To consider a loan period for someone the club spent £35million on isn’t something we’re looking to do at this moment in time,” he said. “Andy will be the same as every other player – if there’s ever an offer that comes in we’d look at it as a club and see if it’s going to be worthwhile for the club and the team as a whole.”
Earlier this week, West Ham made a move to recruit Carroll on loan and Liverpool surprisingly agreed a deal which would see them pay £2m up front with the commitment to sign him permanently for an extra £17m at the end of the season, as long as they weren’t relegated. Carroll wasn’t interested though so the deal fell through.
Now, if Carroll’s earlier story about leaving Newcastle is to be believed, it’s interesting that he has turned down a move to West Ham. He claimed that he left Newcastle, the club he loved and wanted to play at forever, for Liverpool not because he wanted to leave but because the club didn’t want him. It’s strange now that Liverpool don’t want him, with the manager putting him in the shop window and the club accepting offers for him, that Carroll is going to refuse the move. Unlike his move from Newcastle to Liverpool, his salary won’t change, which strangely has given Carroll the confidence to use his voice and tell the club he isn’t going anywhere. Suddenly, not being wanted by your current club isn’t justification for putting in a transfer request and leaving. Funny that.
I’m sure it seemed like a great idea to him at the time. Move to Liverpool, make more money, tell the Geordies he was forced out, win a few trophies then, fingers crossed, return to the North East. He must have seen the way Liverpool fans worship their star players and fancied a bit of that. I suppose he never imagined that the goals would dry up (largely thanks to Stuart “£20m, no goals, no assists” Downing), he would be known as one of the biggest flops of all time and Liverpool would be trying to shift him on to relegation candidates just 18 months after signing.
I wonder what Carroll must be thinking now, looking at the framed Newcastle ‘Carroll #9’ shirt he’ll almost certainly have on some wall in his bachelor pad in Merseyside. His salary was reportedly quadrupled when he made the move away from his hometown club, from £20,000-a-week to £80,000. Was it worth the money? An extra £240k-a-month, almost £3m extra per year, as well as any other commercial deals that are likely to come the way of a Liverpool player over a Newcastle player, is nothing to be scoffed at. Football is a short career and, judging by his off field reputation, Carroll certainly isn’t blessed with brains, so is there any shame in wanting to earn as much as he can whilst he’s still young? No player is going to come out and admit they’re a mercenary. Emmanuel Adebayor came fairly close when he left Arsenal for Manchester City, saying: “I know a lot of people will say ‘He’s gone for the money’. But I would like to see one Arsenal fan who worked somewhere for £10 and was offered work somewhere else for £30 to say they would refuse.” And that’s probably fair enough. But Carroll has made himself unpopular by trying to paint himself as someone who was better than that, someone who wanted to stay at Newcastle earning in a month what he’d earn in a week at Liverpool, because of his deep love for the club. He exposed himself as not only a mercenary, but a liar too, trying to pull on the heart strings of the fans who had so desperately wanted him to become a Newcastle legend, and that is never going to go down well.
Maybe as fans we just don’t get it. Just as local heroes like Steven Gerrard, Ryan Giggs and John Terry did, we grew up dreaming of scoring for our clubs, but maybe things change when you actually do it. Whilst we might hail these one club players as heroes and a rarity in the modern game, can we say that without any doubt these players would have stayed at their respective clubs if it wasn’t financially made worth their while? Gerrard was courted by Chelsea, and was rewarded with a massive new contract when he decided to stay, Giggs turned down big money in Italy for more money in Manchester, and Terry was rewarded for his “loyalty” when he eventually told City where to go, having suffered from “sleepless nights” when they made him an offer.
Newcastle didn’t make it worth Carroll’s while to stay though so he joined Liverpool, believing it would further his career as well as line his pockets. More than likely, he’s happy with his decision, and can look at his bank balance whenever he doubts whether he made the right one. But I’m sure there will be times when he’s chugging around the park for Liverpool, or West Ham, or wherever they ship him off to, when he will think like a fan again, and would play for free just to pull on Newcastle’s number 9 and score one more time.