The 7th of October is a day that will go down in Geordie folklore. After 14 years of misery, 11 different managers, two relegations and just three top half finishes in the Premier League, things could finally be on the up at Newcastle United. The weeds sucking the life out of the club have been cleared, 50,000 of the Toon Army assembled at St. James’ Park unified for the first time in what feels like eons. At long last, nature in the North-East of England seems to be healing.
Such excitement and buzz are not feelings associated with the Mike Ashley era at Newcastle United. But the future under their powerful consortium trio, worth up to £700 billion if some reports are to be believed, promises much more.
The Public Investment Fund, with further backing from the Reuben Brothers and PCP Capital Partners have lifted over a decade of gloom on Tyneside. Now, Newcastle fans across the globe will be dreaming of competing with the likes of Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain.
These are the sort of ambitions that Amanda Staveley holds for the Toon Army, declaring a Premier League title inside this decade their goal. But the investment Newcastle needs requires long-term thinking. They are in desperate need of a shake-up across all areas of the club, from playing staff to the training infrastructure. With an academy whose well has dried up and facilities that are still yet to catch up with the rest of the Premier League, the new owners have their work cut out for them.
In spite of this newfound wealth and optimism, there are still huge questions to be asked on Tyneside. Steve Bruce has now left the club by mutual consent, after a painful tenure. And while the treatment he received from fans can never be condoned, this was a necessary step for the football club. When the tide needs to be changed, new owners have to take such measures to keep famously passionate fans on side. Removing an already unpopular figure from the equation was a no-brainer.
Under Bruce, Newcastle lacked tactical direction and a drive like they had under Rafael Benítez. I would even argue that the squad is now stronger than the one the Spaniard had his disposal; with largely the same core of defensive and midfield options, Callum Wilson and Allan Saint-Maximin provide star quality and goals that they lacked before. But all this was null without any stability.
That should be the new owners’ first priority. Bookies have touted big names like Antonio Conte as Bruce’s successor, but the ship needs to be steadied first. They need a manager to come in and instil a style of football to provide a base for future big-name managers. There is no doubt that whoever they pick will be significantly backed, but we can’t ignore Newcastle’s troublesome position.
The truth of the matter is that they are in a relegation battle. Manchester City didn’t have the same concerns when they enjoyed their similarly ground-breaking takeover. While fans will be dreaming of Kylian Mbappé or Erling Haaland leading their line, they don’t yet have the draw for such superstars. Settling in the north-east doesn’t have the same appeal it once did in football.
Playing in the black and white stripes in the nineties was a sign you were amongst footballing elite. But relentless investment amongst league rivals and a widespread commercialisation of the sport means the region now has some catching up to do. This season should be about damage control, then regrouping thereafter.
It took Manchester City three years to win their first major honours after being taken over. Success doesn’t happen overnight, especially not in football. Turning this club around is going to take time.
I often think back to the famous ‘what is a club’ quote from Bobby Robson. The ‘feeling of belonging, the pride in your city’. For the first time in a while, those two feelings have finally returned. Now it’s up to the new owners to leverage them. This great club can reclaim its place on the English footballing mantle, but it certainly won’t happen overnight.
Photo: Barry Marsh via Creative Commons