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As Newcastle United move on and look to compete – These are the challenges that lie ahead

2 weeks ago
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Heartening to see most of the comments following the Newcastle United defeat to Liverpool this weekend.

The vast majority very measured, recognising that losing to probably the best club side on the planet right now, is to be expected.

A minority (some of the usual suspects) have cried foul, citing the narrow defeat as a disgrace, which is bonkers given what Eddie and the team have achieved since the autumn.

This has got me returning to the question that arose when the takeover first happened. Assuming our new owners deliver further on the funds necessary to get us into a position where we can be truly considered one of the big boys, when will we compete with the likes of Liverpool?

Watching Everton scrape a win against Chelsea yesterday gives some food for thought. It’s been widely reported that Everton have squandered around £600 million in the past few years and just look at their plight. A salutary lesson that knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing can still be the case in English football’s top flight.

Chelsea, on the other hand have had countless hundreds of millions pumped in over a sustained twenty-year period and that investment has certainly paid dividends. A number of domestic trophies, including five premier league titles, success on the European stage including two champions league trophies, together with the world club champions badge adorning their yellow away kit, as they surrendered meekly at Goodison Park.

The Newcastle United takeover prompted the inevitable comparison with Manchester City. Middle eastern owners with vast reserves of cash. When they were acquired by Sheikh Mansour back in 2008, their more illustrious neighbours across the city had just won the league for the seventeenth time but perhaps more pertinent, the top four in 2008 (alongside Man Utd, these were Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool) had finished, albeit in a different order, in those same champions league qualifying spots for the third consecutive season, and would do so again in 2009. That was the challenge for Man City back then, breaking into a top four that had become an exclusive cabal, and it took them until 2011 to achieve it, finishing tenth and fifth the two seasons in between.

Arguably, the challenge facing Man City was easier than that facing Newcastle United right now.

First of all, Man City didn’t have to worry too much about UEFA’s Financial Fair Play provisions. Despite their introduction in the year after City’s takeover, a much stricter application came later and will be a real headache for us, because we need to get our investment decisions spot on. We simply cannot afford to get them wrong.

On the one hand, Ashley’s penny-pinching and frugality has left us with the ability to spend significantly more on players (if the new owners choose to put up the cash) than would have been the case had he loosened the purse strings a little. In addition, his woeful mismanagement of the commercial side of the club also offers the new owners the opportunity to grow revenues, which as far as FFP is concerned, will significantly help offset the cost of player acquisitions. Much needed investment in training facilities is exempted from FFP and boy is this needed as well.

However, looking at the current crop of players, we’re unlikely to generate very much from player sales and that won’t help. Take the Chris Wood acquisition, whilst the jury is well and truly out on what he’s achieved since the turn of the year, my own personal view is that he’s undoubtedly helped us secure our top flight status but is unlikely to be a major part of Eddie’s future plans. At a cost of £25m, he’ll not help when it comes to FFP.

Secondly, of the top four in 2008, whilst only Man Utd and Chelsea were serious contenders for the title before Man City managed it, I can’t help but feel that the current equivalent duo of Liverpool and Man City are far stronger. I’d also question whether Chelsea have totally dropped out of the equation, despite myself and others hoping that with Abramovich out of the picture the exceptionally good times are over for a club that is perhaps only reviled as much as their scouse opponents yesterday? I’d therefore question whether the odds of Newcastle United competing with the elite have improved as a result of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Also, whilst Man Utd have been downright awful this season, let’s not forget they finished second in 2021 and although it might well depend on getting the Glazers out, will surely get things right in time.

Add into the equation the fact that Spurs and Arsenal appear to be getting stronger, competition for the top four, never mind the premier league title, will be more intense now than it was back when Man City won the lottery.

Thirdly, back to the personnel on the park.

Reading the comments over the weekend, it seems clear that in Trippier and Bruno we only have two players of such outstanding talent and potential that they wouldn’t be out of place in either of Liverpool or Man City’s current squads. But that’s really it, and if we are to harbour any ambition of a top four finish or a trophy anytime soon, we need a total revamp.

Whilst we should not for a single minute downplay or underestimate the miraculous recovery Eddie and the team have achieved over the past six months, it’s clear that in the summer, there will be new signings if we are to push on.

Personally, I think we need five or six signings of the calibre of Trippier and Bruno. Based on what that pair cost, this will take upwards of £200 million but remembering FFP and the near £100 million outlay in January, signings more like Bruno than Trip will be necessary. Is this possible and will we get it right?

The fourth hurdle to clear is the fact that we are Newcastle United. Serial underachievers and without a domestic trophy since 1955. We still all wear the scars of 1996 and the years shortly after.

Under the Ashley regime, I had resigned myself to the fact that we wouldn’t win any silverware in my lifetime and it was a pretty miserable prospect. Thanks to the new owners, we have more than a glimmer of hope. The city feels like it’s preparing for lift off and the summer of 2022 will be the most eagerly anticipated in years, as we will be inevitably linked with every available player and more.

So, as my thoughts turn back to the possibility of success, we need to be patient. We need the owners and the manager to be ultra-methodical and to chart a realistic path, which to me means in the first instance targeting the League Cup or the FA Cup. Even then, those clubs mentioned throughout this article have hoarded these trophies in recent years. It’s been nine years since someone outside of this exclusive club lifted the League Cup, although Leicester managed to lift the FA Cup as recently as 2021 and that surely provides us with some hope.

Getting amongst the elite is going to be difficult but it’s eminently possible, although the question is, when will Newcastle United compete?

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