Connect in the back of the net

It was announced last week that chief scout Graham Carr and Newcastle United had parted ways by mutual consent.

Carr arrived at St James’ Park in 2010, following the recommendation of then-manager Chris Hughton who had previously worked with him at Tottenham Hotspur. Following the switch, Carr was responsible for scouting and offering advice on which players to sign.

Newcastle, under the ownership of tight-fisted tycoon Mike Ashley, had a clear business plan when it came to transfers. Ashley never though long-term and his aim was to purchase relatively young players for a reasonable price, who Newcastle could then develop and sell on for a higher fee.

Carr then became an integral point of the plan and his expertise in the foreign transfer markets would prove to be of benefit to United.

 

Fine start

Carr excelled in his first few years at Newcastle, persuading the club to acquire the likes of Cheick Tiote, Hatem Ben Arfa, Yohan Cabaye and Papiss Cisse, all of who were instrumental in helping the Magpies to a fifth-place finish in the 2011/12 season.

Carr was trusted by Ashley and had the necessary resources to purchase players on the cheap, with the aforementioned Tiote and Cabaye costing a mere £3.5m and £4.5m respectively; the first of the Graham Carr ‘gems’.

Carr’s acquisitions arguably helped the Magpies earn European football, with the Geordie faithful more than content with matters on the pitch, a feeling they had not experienced in a while.

 

Snag

However, in the following seasons, the business plan was not working wonders as it had previously. Newcastle struggled to bring in new additions as other clubs were reluctant to allow their players to leave for substandard prices.

Ashley was unwilling to delve into the English market, as players in this category were highly overpriced and did not fit in with the owner’s ideology. The foreign market was United’s main supply with France and Holland being the most sought markets with the former being the main one.

United subsequently held a ‘French Day’ on the day of a league match against Southampton in February 2013, whereby the fans played homage to the success of the club’s contingent from across the channel.

Although most players scouted by Newcastle were unproven in the Premier League, Ashley believed that the potential outweighed the risk. The risk largely did not pay off, with gambles on low-budget players not paying off, along with a low quality squad and lack of effort resulting in a series of relegation battles for the Toon.

 

Splurge does not reap dividends

This consequently led to Ashley putting his hand in his pocket and spending, with United splurging over £80m in the 2015/16, with notably inclusions being £14.5m on Gini Wijnaldum, £13m on Aleksandar Mitrovic and £13 on Andros Townsend; a statement of intent by the Club.

Ultimately, this did not play dividends, with United being relegated at the end of that season, highlighting that quality is not sufficient alone and that everyone at the club must pull in the same direction, which was not happening at St James’ Park.

Managers often did not have a choice about which players came into the club, while some of their desired signings were simply brushed aside. The title of ‘head coach’ was fittingly utilised instead, indicating that they were solely responsible for the first team and on-the-pitch matters.

The hierarchical structure worked for a while, with owner Mike Ashley, Carr and whoever the ‘head coach’ was all having an input in terms of transfer activity.

Ashley set a budget, Carr was responsible for scouting a particular player in that price range and the head coach – whether it was Chris Hughton, Alan Pardew or Steve McClaren would either approve or disapprove.

 

Rafa changes the system

This configuration remained in place up until the appointment of Rafa Benitez.

The previous managers were all content to play the ‘head coach’ role, however everyone at Newcastle United knew how blessed they were to have a manager of Benitez’s calibre at the helm and even more so that the Spaniard stuck with the Magpies after relegation.

Benitez was immediately assigned the title of ‘manager’, with full control being given to him.

Benitez worked with Carr for his first full season, taking advice from the scout however it was Rafa who had the final say on transfers. There was a slight scare amongst Toon supporters in February 2017 after United had failed to strengthen their squad in order to push to seal promotion to the Premier League.

In an interview following the 2-2 draw at home to QPR, Benitez was questioned on the topic of lack of transfers to which he responded “it was not my decision”, causing his future to be in doubt with supporters fearing the worst.

However four months later, Newcastle had sealed promotion, won the Championship title and Benitez had reaffirmed his future with the Toon, with Carr leaving his position as head scout reassuring fans that full control is with Rafa and that the ‘Rafalution’ can resume.

 

Hit and miss

It remains to be seen what is next for Graham Carr, considering his age at 72.

His signings have been a balance of success and disappointments; for every Yohan Cabaye, Loic Remy and Gini Wijnaldum there is a Henri Saivet, Luuk de Jong and Emmanuel Riviere.

Many of Carr’s recruits have not reached their full potential, with some not given enough of an opportunity to impress.

The likes of Siem de Jong and Massadio Haidara have struggled with injury for the majority of their Newcastle careers, while others can be said to have been mis-managed.

After struggling at Newcastle, players such as Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and Florian Thauvin have gone on to blossom at their respective clubs and are settled after being trusted by their managers – managers who actually wanted them at their clubs.

This was not always the case with the managers at Newcastle, which can be a major factor in the performance of a player.

Other Carr acquisitions such as Remy Cabella, Sylvain Marveaux and Mehdi Abeid all showed glimpses of talent and what they were capable of, however they were largely inconsistent and were shipped out having failed to impress during their short stints at the Toon.

Such signings left fans to wonder what they could have been had they played under the right manager who would have patience and trust in order for them to develop. However the cruel nature of football is evident here, with fans and managers alike not having much patience in the modern day.

The Magpies may have been in a loftier position, had some of Carr’s recommendations not failed. Raphaël Varane, Kurt Zouma, Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang all could have plied their trade in the black and white shirt of Newcastle before they gained their European status, however the deals fell through for various reasons.

 

A success for Ashley

In terms of Ashley’s business plan, Carr was successful overall.

The aim to make profit on players worked well, notably in the cases of Moussa Sissoko (bought for £1.8m, sold for £30m), Yohan Cabaye (bought for £4.5m, sold for £19m) and Georginio Wijnaldum (bought for £14.5m, sold for £25m).

Carr played his part in the business plan and made the club a fair amount of money, hence Ashley’s loyalty to him in the pre-Rafa era.

 

Rafa no longer restrained

Some of Carr’s purchases impressed while others did not, however there is no doubt that the scout had an eye for talent.

Mike Ashley will deem Carr a success due to the profits made from player sales, whereas the majority of Newcastle supporters will be glad to see the back of the 72-year-old now that there are no restrictions for manager Rafa Benitez, with the ‘Rafalution’ now set to be in full swing.

 

Written by Dawud Arshad

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