Le Toon epitomise the changing face of English football
Alan Pardew gets the grief, Graham Carr grabs the glory. There, in a nutshell, is the subtle shift in power which may change the culture of English football – who cares about the man in the hotseat as long as the bloke at the back of the stand keeps finding treasure?
Newcastle United had better get used to the fact they are just another part of Mike Ashley’s business empire. Only the most naive fan cannot be aware of the club’s reliance on Ashley, the stack-’em-high-and-flog-’em-cheap multi-millionaire who, with Carr’s help, is bringing his retail philosophy to St James’ Park – though with an expensive twist.
When Ashley temporarily turned off the tap last summer, a lot of supporters at St James’ Park suddenly felt a raging thirst, and they have responded with characteristic theatricality to Newcastle’s January splurge on six new players, five of whom are French. They are now, unofficially, Ligue 1’s 21st club. The weekend win over Chelsea – founded on a fabulous home debut by Moussa Sissoko (pictured, centre) – completed the rebranding of the north-east club. They are now simply known as Le Toon.
The club shop has sold out of berets. While players are not exactly turning up for training on bicycles festooned with onions and popping out for a crafty Gauloises, there has been a tangible shift in culture. When even the local scribblers are reaching for dog-eared French GCSE revision books, something profound is surely happening.
That approach has its benefits, and its challenges. There is an obvious risk of cliques being formed, yet the acquisition of players of such obvious potential as Sissoko, Mathieu Debuchy and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa is fantastic business.
It also highlights the influence of Carr, the chief scout who was the first member of the back-room team to benefit from Ashley’s determination to offer key staff an eight-year contract. That is unheard of job security for a man in what is an inherently insecure trade.
He has a humble background. Carr managed the likes of Dartford, Nuneaton Borough, Northampton Town, Blackpool, Dagenham and Redbridge, Maidstone United, Kettering and Weymouth before making his name scouting for David Pleat at Tottenham, after which he worked under Sven-Göran Eriksson at Manchester City and Notts County.
Carr’s knowledge of the French market is apparently inexhaustible, yet none of his purchases – and they have a personal imprint – came from left field. All had burgeoning reputations on the other side of the Channel and all were on the radar of other clubs.
They are athletic, resilient and cheap at double the price. Yanga-Mbiwa has even been touted as a future France captain by national manager Didier Deschamps. Crucially, they also fit the modern business model. Newcastle will be a selling club in the summer, when it will be Carr’s turn to feel pressure. It is up to him to keep the production line rolling.
Follow Life’s a Pitch on Twitter @BTLifesaPitch
Watch Newcastle live on BT Vision:
Tottenham v Newcastle, 12.30pm, 9 February, Sky Sports 2
Don’t have BT Vision? Find out how to get it