Newcastle are heading into Europe on the back of hard work. Mark Douglas explains the holy trinity behind United's success.
NEWCASTLE United’s three-year surge from laughing stock to the top six has prompted a search for the secret to their success – but here’s the sting in the tail: there is no magic formula.
Instead, the foundations for United’s revival reside in the holy trinity of hard work, trust and knowing – and playing to – their strengths.
It might not sound sexy but it seems to be working for a club that has seen its fortunes improve steeply since returning to the Premier League.
First of all, the hard work. When United were relegated, a disillusioned Mike Ashley put his club on the market. Fed up with what he saw as the wasted resources that had been frittered away during a campaign that had flopped, he had little motivation to plunge more money down a financial black hole.
When attempts to sell the club stalled, a new blueprint was drawn up. One of the key principles behind it was that not one penny would be knowingly wasted, leading to a re-organisation in the way the club dealt with agents and transfers.
They famously pay transfer fees up front these days but, more importantly, they only splash the cash on players who are worth their while.
Thanks to chief scout Graham Carr, that has been a much smoother process recently. Carr joined the club in early 2010 after the Notts County project that he had been spearheading alongside former Manchester City boss Sven-Göran Eriksson was undermined by a lack of funds.
Carr has embraced the leg work enthusiastically, putting in the hard yards to watch hundreds of players since he was persuaded by Chris Hughton to take the top scouting job at his boyhood club.
None of Newcastle’s major signings since influential Carr was appointed have been made without recourse to one of the hundreds of thick files tucked away in an office at their Benton training base – or without thorough research being carried out.
The length and breadth of what United’s hierarchy refer to as “homework” is impressive. Tips from cab drivers, bar owners and tuned-in local journalists are hungrily devoured and placed alongside exhaustive technical reports. A senior source told The Journal: “Basically, we don’t sign a player these days unless we know which foot they put their sock on first. It is that much detail.
“That means his personality, his character – as well as how he plays in rain, snow, sleet and sunshine.
“Mike Ashley’s attitude is that he wouldn’t spend £10m at St James’ Park without some serious homework, why should Newcastle United do it?”
In a rare interview with a national radio station on Monday, Carr explained his approach. It involves plenty of air miles from his base in Northampton and the inside of quite a few nondescript hotel rooms.
He said: “At Newcastle, we haven’t been able to pay the big fees, so we’ve gone for what we would call realistic targets. I just go and watch matches.
“I might go and pick three matches up in Holland and three matches up in France over the course of a weekend and midweek. I also go to Germany.
“I get a list of names together and we sit down with the manager, Derek Llambias and Lee Charnley and our staff and we discuss them. If we think we want to sign one, Lee Charnley goes and gets a price for it.”