THE hair is a little bit longer, the ankles are a fair bit more battered and bruised, but when he pulls a black-and-white shirt back over his head in the next few days, there will be no mistaking the identity of Newcastle United’s new centre-forward. Eight-and-a-half years after he left St James’ Park in the most contentious transfer of the Mike Ashley era, Andy Carroll is back where he belongs.

That is the narrative it is hard to avoid after Carroll agreed a one-year deal to return to his hometown club, and while the emotional side of football can sometimes be overblown, there is an undeniable sentimental appeal about the idea of ‘the one that got away’ returning to fire Newcastle up the table.

All too often under Ashley, it has felt as if hard-headed business has consistently trumped matters of the heart. Newcastle has felt cold, sterile, a football club functioning as a giant advertisement for Sports Direct. Carroll’s return flies in the face of that. A Geordie striker playing for a Geordie manager in front of the Gallowgate End. At the end of a summer that has been beset by anger and strife, this is a timely reminder of what most supporters want Newcastle to be.

Not all of those supporters will be won over by Carroll’s return of course, and it is hardly difficult to construct a counter-argument to the view that all is sweetness and light. Carroll is on the wrong side of 30, has suffered a series of chronic injury problems and has managed just 25 Premier League starts in the last three seasons. He returns on a free transfer, having been released by West Ham United, so his signing hardly represents a lavish investment on the part of Ashley. Had he not been available for nothing, he would not have been coming back.

Newcastle have replaced Salomon Rondon and Ayoze Perez, their two leading scorers from last season, with Joelinton, Allan Saint-Maximin and Carroll. With two-thirds of that trio completely untried in the Premier League, that is hardly a guarantee of success. But the finances of the deal that has been agreed with Carroll nevertheless make it a low-risk move.

Desperate to resurrect his career after so long in the wilderness, Carroll has agreed to an initial one-year contract. His basic weekly wage is a massive reduction on the sum he was earning at West Ham – it is not believed to be too much more than the sum he was earning when he first broke on to the senior scene as a teenager – but there is the chance to supplement it significantly with a series of bonuses if he plays and scores.

He is still at least a fortnight away from being able to train properly, probably the best part of a month away from being able to play, but if it turns out that he is barely able to kick a ball at all over the next nine months, the financial impact on Newcastle will be minimal. True, he will be taking up a place on the 25-man squad list, but it would only have gone to a Jack Colback or a Rolando Aarons, someone on the very periphery of Steve Bruce’s plans.

Perhaps Carroll will not even make it that far. It will be exciting to find out though, and like goodwill, excitement has been in short supply at St James’ in recent years.

Having been at the heart of one Newcastle’s darkest days, Carroll has a chance of redemption. He always insists he did not want to leave his native Tyneside when he made his £35m switch to Liverpool in January 2011. Finally, he has the chance to pick up where he left off.