Newcastle’s new owners walked into St James’ Park with significant work to do on and off the pitch.
Figurehead Amanda Staveley and non-executive chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan will take the wheel of a club which has been drifting for much of the last 14 years or so under previous incumbent Mike Ashley and attempt to steer it back on course.
Here, the PA news agency takes a look at some of the challenges they face as they prepare to get down to work.
Winning the PR battle
Newcastle fans, many of whom who have been at war with Ashley for much of his reign, celebrated deliriously on Thursday night when the news that Staveley’s largely Saudi-funded consortium had completed its takeover broke. However even as they did so, some acknowledged concerns being expressed more widely over Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, and that is not going to go away. Amnesty International has repeatedly accused the Public Investment Fund which has bought an 80 per cent stake in the club, of “sportswashing” – attempting to use sport to improve its reputation. Staveley has insisted PIF and the state are entirely separate entities and that she would not have been involved had she any concerns on that front but for many, the club will be tainted by association.
Current head coach Steve Bruce has accepted that his time in the hot-seat could be drawing to a close regardless of the parlous situation in which the club finds itself after failing to win any of its first seven Premier League games this season. Bruce, who a few days earlier had been urged to resign by 94.3 per cent of more than 5,000 respondents to a Newcastle United Supporters Trust poll, expressed his desire to continue in the immediate aftermath of the confirmation, but acknowledged “…you have to be realistic and they may well want a new manager to launch things for them.” Had the takeover been approved last year, there was a very real possibility Rafael Benitez could have returned but the Spaniard is now safely ensconced at Everton. Former Juventus, Inter Milan, Italy and Chelsea boss Antonio Conte has swiftly been installed among the bookmakers’ favourites with Leicester’s Brendan Rodgers and Rangers boss Steven Gerrard also featuring prominently.
Investment has been an issue at Newcastle for many years with Benitez’s exasperation at his lack of funds and control over transfers one of the main reasons for his departure in 2019. The relative austerity of Ashley’s regime – initially buying promising young players with a view to selling them on at a significant profit, as they did with the likes of Yohan Cabaye, Moussa Sissoko and Aleksandar Mitrovic – has left Bruce with a reasonable team when all his players are fit, but not a great deal underneath it. Allan Saint-Maximin’s £16million capture from Nice increasingly looks like a bargain but Joelinton is yet to live up to his club record £40million price-tag, while the entire summer budget went on £25million midfielder Joe Willock. A proven striker to complement Callum Wilson, a creative midfielder and a commanding central defender would be a good start.
St James’ Park looks down over the city from Gallowgate and is one of English football’s most imposing venues, but it has started to look tired. Fans will be desperate too to see the removal of Ashley’s Sports Direct livery. Perhaps more urgent is the need to upgrade the club’s Darsley Park training headquarters. In 2013, plans were drawn up for a new £10million state of the art facility which then director of football Joe Kinnear said would “rival any in Europe” and planning permission was granted but construction never started and the funds were later diverted into the playing squad. Some improvements were made during Benitez’s time on Tyneside, but the existing facilities do not compare favourably with many Premier League rivals.
Newcastle have not won a domestic trophy since last lifting the FA Cup in 1955, and the club’s 1969 European Fairs Cup triumph is a distant memory for those who witnessed it. They now have the spending power to compete for much higher-profile signings – they are potentially the richest club in world football – but Staveley has already warned their spending, which will be limited by financial fair play rules, will have to be “commercially sensible”. She is targeting Champions League football and silverware, but patience will be required.