Paul Cannell is returning to Washington from Newcastle to play for the Diplomats -- permanently. On the face of it, the Washington soccer club would seem to have acquired a notable bargain.

At something less than $80,000, the 24-year-old Cannell, scorer of 14 goals for the Dips in the 1976 NASL season, cost considerably less than a fifth of what the Cosmos have paid Manchester City for Dennis Tueart.

If Cannell is not a major star, he remains a player good enough to score a dozen goals for Newcastle United in last season's English First Division, and to appear this season for United in the major European Union (UEFA) Cup competition.

Cannell is a young man of engaging charm, humour and forthrightness, a genuine typical Geordie-Newcastle born and bred -- who is especially happy that his new coach, Gordon Bradley, is "a Geordie fellow," too.

Newcastle, and the north east, is traditionally the best breeding ground for soccer players in England. United was a great club even before the first world war, and although it now has fallen on bad times, the tradition remains alive.

Not that Cannell has had much solace from that this season. From being a regular member of the first team, playing 29 games out of 42, he has been limited to occasional appearances in a club tormented by internal dissent. Last summer, at the behest of the players, United reluctantly moved the assistant coach, Richard Dinnis, an ex-schoolmaster who never played pro football, up to chief coach, or manager.

But the team failed to flourish and Dinniss, now in the States himself, was sacked, to be replaced by the dour but highly experienced Bill McGarry.

"We went," said Cannell with uncharacteristic bitterness, "from bad to worse. So I thought the time had come to head back over the water, where I'd done so well."

Of McGarry, he said, trenchantly, "If you were up on a window ledge and he told you to stay put, you'd jump."

As for the States, "It's just a different world out there." The more so by comparison with Gallowgate, Newcastle United's home, where all is gloom as the team slides down from the first division.

"The thing is," said Cannell, "people who go over there to America enjoy playing football: the main reason why I want to go back. The atmosphere at Newcastle is so depressing, Diabolical."

He is greatly impressed by Bradley's enthusiasm, by the friendly relations the Washington players have with the press unlike at Newcastle "you're scared to talk to any pressman," by the way the Washington players are encouraged "to mix in with the kids."

He has kind words, too, for the enthusiasm of Steve Danzansky, the Washington club's president: "He mixes in with the players."

Of the quality of NASL football Cannell said, "I think from the moment I got there till the day I came home it seemed to improve every game. There was a hell of a difference between the top teams and the bottom teams. The top teams compare with English First Division teams."

Cannell describes himself as "an aggressive striker who loves scoring goals. I don't particularly need anyone to play off (a center-forward who takes the brunt of the defensive challenge). I just like to enjoy myself and score goals."

This he surely will, not least because, as he admits, the 35-yard offside law which still exists in the NASL favors the forwards. In Washington, Cannell will earn twice as much as he did in Newcastle. He could have joined the Second Division club Mansfield Town, but he is much happier to play in the States.

Cannell's potential is unquestionable: what was prevented him from realizing it has been the chaotic nature of affairs at Newcastle United, the demoralizing experience of being thrust in and out of the first team. That erodes a player's confidence, prevents his finding harmony with his colleagues.

With Bradley and the Dips he should fare better than with McGarry, Bradley, a frank, amiable fellow, had little chance to succeed in the highly charged political atmosphere of the New York Cosmos, where power battles were being fought and won -- or lost -- over his head. He has never been a manager in England but has spent years helping to build American soccer. Bradley should find Washington much more his cup of tea. It's certainly Cannell's.