BACK in 1990, as a fresh-faced 13-year-old, I attended a football camp during the school holidays.
It was held at Newcastle’s old training ground, in Benwell – an open, windswept place which helped carve the careers of the likes of Paul Gascoigne, Lee Clark and Steve Watson.
It was also the place where a young coach – John Carver – was taking his first steps on the ladder to a successful professional career.
He obviously knew his stuff even then – I was chosen as player of the week and he tried to persuade me to sign for Montagu Boys Club, which he was heavily involved in.
Always could spot a good player, could John.
Anyhow, I declined, opting to stay with my mates at Inter Whickham (the name was always more grandiose than our actual exploits!) but Carver was always destined for bigger and better things.
The point of this dull anecdote (other than to highlight how close I was to becoming the next Messi, of course) is to give a little bit of background to the man who wants to replace Alan Pardew as the next boss of Newcastle United.
Carver is a fighter. Released by Newcastle as a 19-year-old having never made the first-team, his career was ended a year later thanks to a thigh injury picked up while playing for Cardiff.
He didn’t let that stop him making a career out of football, however.
Carver quickly gained a reputation as one of the best young coaches in the area, so much so that he was appointed as director of Newcastle’s School of Excellence a couple of years after our brief encounter, aged just 27.
That reputation for excellence soon saw him move through the ranks. Sir Bobby Robson knew a good coach when he saw one, and promoted Carver to his No2, happy to delegate a lot of the training practices and sessions to his right-hand man.
It’s where Carver is arguably at his best, working with players on the training ground. His passion for coaching is renowned – almost as much as his passion for Newcastle United.
So with the club now looking for a ‘head coach’ to replace Pardew, it should be the perfect fit. Shouldn’t it?
Carver himself thinks so, and who can blame him.
“I’ve been at the club for many years now – almost 25 years as boy and man,” he said. “When an opportunity like this comes around, I’d be mad not to want to be head coach.
“If I don’t throw my hat in the ring, I’ll never get that opportunity again I don’t think.
“Listen, everything I’ve ever gone into I want to win. I want to be the best. If I didn’t have confidence in my own ability, I’d just walk away – I wouldn’t throw my hat in the ring.
“But no, I’m prepared to take that challenge.
“I’m not going to cower away from it – I’m big enough and strong enough to say ‘yes, I would like this job’.”
Strong words, passionate rhetoric from a genuine Geordie, a respected coach and someone who has the club at heart.
A perfect fit.
Yet there doesn’t appear to be a great deal of support among supporters for Carver to take the job.
The myth that fans only want a Geordie in charge of their club may be perpetrated by certain sections of the Southern-based media but it isn’t true.
They just want the best man for the job, whether he’s from Montagu, Margate or the moon.
Carver isn’t seen as that man. Unfortunately, he still isn’t seen as his OWN man, a point reinforced by Saturday’s FA Cup exit where he played a weakened team against Leicester in a manner that insinuated he wasn’t treating the competition as a priority – as Mike Ashley & Co decree.
He is too closely associated by many with Pardew’s reign and little he’s done in his two games in caretaker charge have dispelled that notion.
A quick look at his managerial record also doesn’t inspire confidence. Caretaker spells at Newcastle, Leeds and Sheffield United, plus an ill-fated time in charge of Toronto, have resulted in just a 29 per cent win ratio.
There remains obvious support for Carver – he’s warmly-regarded in the changing room, while parts of the media who would love to have a repeat of 2007 when Freddie Shepherd was persuaded to appoint another press favourite, Glenn Roeder, after his own caretaker spell.
Ashley is harder to second-guess than Shepherd, however. While he has form for appointing from within, he has also shown he’s not afraid to make surprise and controversial choices as the arrivals of Keegan, Shearer, Kinnear and Pardew attest.
There’s been some attractive names thrown into the hat. Remi Garde, Steve McClaren, Frank de Boer and Thomas Tuchel all have impressive track records, and look to be better bets.
But if it is one of those managers who gets the job, they’d do a lot worse than making their first decision one to keep Carver in a key role at the club.
His passion, ability and knowledge makes him so right for Newcastle United. Just not as the main man.