The 'slow-burning' Andy Carroll deal – and the Mike Ashley connection
The deal was only done in the final hours of the transfer window, but it had been months in the making.
The striker re-signed for the club as a free agent on transfer deadline day last month. Carroll had been released by West Ham United following an injury-interrupted season at the London Stadium.
Newcastle, knowing his contract was to expire in the summer, were tracking Carroll long before he had ankle surgery late last season.
Bruce was briefed on the club’s potential targets after taking charge in July following the exit of Rafa Benitez, who had vetoed a £40million move for Hoffenheim striker Joelinton.
The 58-year-old was asked about a move for Carroll in Shanghai after his first, formal press conference at the team’s plush hotel on the banks of the Huangpu River.
Bruce, understandably, didn’t want to discuss names on the record as managing director Lee Charnley worked on deals back on Tyneside.
However, the club was short on striking options following the departure of loanee Salomon Rondon, who went on to join Benitez at Chinese club Dalian Yifang.
“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand where we’re light,” said Bruce, pointedly.
After going through scouting reports with head of recruitment Steve Nickson, Bruce quickly approved a move for Joelinton.
“We needed Rafa’s approval to proceed and, despite our best efforts, this is something he would not give,” wrote Charnley in his programme notes for the season-opener against Arsenal.
“Following Steve Bruce’s arrival, we discussed Joelinton and our scouting reports at length. With Steve completely on board, we were delighted to secure him. He and Hoffenheim were very patient, and we’re grateful to them for that.”
Bruce, however, also needed cover for Joelinton as Joselu had been sold to Alaves. The club had already done some work on Carroll, who had remained on good terms with Newcastle’s hierarchy following his £35million move to Liverpool in January 2011.
There’s also a Mike Ashley connection. Steve Mucklow, Carroll’s future father-in-law, is a business associate of United owner Ashley and Justin Barnes, his lieutenant.
A deal for Carroll was attractive to Bruce, Charnley and Ashley given that he would sign an incentivised one-year contract.
And a return to Tyneside was also attractive to Carroll once it became clear that he would be a free agent.
In March, West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini confirmed that the Gateshead-born player was sidelined with another ankle problem. The following month it was reported that Carroll would not be offered a new deal after having an operation which would see him sidelined for the rest of the campaign.
Newcastle followed his progress as he went through his rehabilitation programme following surgery, and Bruce wanted to know just when he could be available to him after taking charge at the club.
While Carroll was a free agent, and technically able to sign for a club outside a transfer window, the agreement had to be done before the club submitted its 25-man Premier League squad list the day after the transfer deadline.
Had United not completed the deal by 5pm, August 9, the club would have had to have filled every slot with available senior players – whether or not Bruce intended to use them. The club couldn’t leave a space open for Carroll, so the deal had to be done. It was quickly completed once Carroll passed a medical.
Carroll – who described the deal as a “slow burner” – was just happy to be coming “home”.
“We were talking about it, and then I spoke to Lee (Charnley) and got involved,” said Carroll, who won his first senior England cap in his first spell at the club. "The last couple of weeks, it's been a slow burner, and then I did a medical the other day and that was it really.
"It was a bit of a mad one as we kept it quiet for a while and then halfway through the journey my phone was non-stop.
"Someone had put something to the press, and my head was all over the place. I couldn't believe it was real.
"The first hour in (to the journey to Newcastle, and) it started to sink in. My bags were packed and ready to go. I think it's going to be a better feeling than the first time."
Carroll, so far, has only missed five league games. There are 33 left to play, and he tentatively returned to training last week. Carroll was given the go-ahead for full-contact sessions this week following an appointment with his specialist on last Friday.
Speaking last week, Bruce said: “For everybody to see him joining in, it was good for him and good for the group. He’s close.
“I’ve always said it’s very difficult to put a timescale on something like Andy. He’s fit when he’s fit. He’s joined in and worked hard, and there’s a smile across his face because he’s comfortable, that’s very good.”
Carroll has the ability to make life very uncomfortable for defenders. If he do that – and stay fit – Bruce will also be smiling this season.