THERE was uproar when he left in January 2011, and further furore when he failed to return the following summer. Ask most Newcastle United supporters about Andy Carroll now though, and the majority will express relief that the Gateshead-born striker is someone else’s headache rather than their own.
The sentiment could be rather different come Saturday night of course, with Carroll’s first start of the season set to coincide with Newcastle’s annual visit to West Ham.
Regardless of the 25- year-old’s lack of match fitness, there is a strong sense of inevitability about what will occur.
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Notwithstanding this weekend’s potential for a particularly painful form of payback, however, it is increasingly hard to argue that Newcastle were wrong to accept Liverpool’s remarkable £35m offer on deadline-day two years ago, just as it is all but impossible to claim they should have moved heaven and earth to re-sign Carroll when he was offered to them 18 months later.
Back then, the Magpies could have re-signed their former academy product for £15m, although they would have had to match his inflated wage packet, which runs to around £80,000-aweek.
Newcastle balked at the figures, West Ham agreed a season-long loan that developed into a permanent transfer last summer, and the rest is an injury-plagued piece of history.
In his 16-and-a-half months as a West Ham player, Carroll has scored seven goals in 25 appearances. His only action this season is an 18-minute cameo from the substitutes’ bench at Cardiff, and while he set up a goal for Mark Noble as the Hammers claimed a much-needed win in South Wales, he has become one of English football’s greatest underachievers.
Even West Ham chairman David Gold has conceded that it was a mistake to invest so much money and faith in the North-Easterner, and the future job prospects of Sam Allardyce, another figure with strong Newcastle United links, appear intrinsically bound with Carroll’s ability to spearhead a successful battle against relegation in the second half of the campaign.
Allardyce put all of his eggs in one basket when he spent £15m on Carroll, before blowing the remaining £6m of his budget on another North-Easterner, Stewart Downing, who was signed specifically to provide the crosses for Carroll to thrive on.
The plan unravelled as soon as Carroll broke down with a foot injury in preseason, yet it was hardly impossible to predict that such a scenario might unfold.
He arrived at Upton Park nursing a heel problem, and since leaving Newcastle at the start of 2011 – when, incidentally, he was struggling with an injury concern anyway – he has had six separate injury lay-offs involving his knees, hamstrings, heel and feet.
His wretched injury record predates his departure from Tyneside, although his time with Newcastle was characterised by a number of niggling problems that sidelined him for an odd game here and there, rather than the major issues that have ravaged his career since.
Why is he so susceptible to injury? His role as an oldfashioned number nine can’t help, with his body taking a battering every time he goes up for a challenge, although his lifestyle in the early days of his career has surely also had an impact.
The tales of Carroll’s party-going exploits have subsided since he moved to London, but his love of a night out on the Quayside was well-known while he lived in the North-East, and Newcastle officials were known to be frustrated at the controversies that seemed to attach themselves to the striker once he had broken into the first team.
Was that a factor in the club’s decision to pass up the chance to take him back to Tyneside? Possibly, although when it comes to Mike Ashley, the overriding rationale tends to be pounds, shilling and pence.
Either way, Newcastle could have re-signed Carroll and didn’t, and while the emotional pull of a homegrown number nine remains strong, few now regard the club’s decision as an opportunity missed.
For all that the Magpies continue to search for a new striker, with Loic Remy’s future uncertain and Papiss Cisse seemingly out of favour and potentially on his way out of St James’ this month, there is unlikely to be too much of a clamour in Carroll’s direction if West Ham are relegated and look to cut their losses next summer.
“The next game is Newcastle, and yes of course it is nostalgic,” said Carroll, as he turned his attention to Saturday’s game. “They are my home town, and I’m looking forward to it. But it could have been anyone.”
The Tynesider, it appears, is determined to move on. It is time for his former club, and the supporters who once worshipped him, to do the same.