After the Newcastle United takeover, fans on Tyneside had a chance to dream. With Saudi money bankrolling the club, European weeks take on a different feel. It is possible to envisage Champions League nights as part of the future at St James’ Park. Certainly, that’s the ambition of Amanda Staveley, Jamie Reuben and Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the club’s non-executive chairman and governor of the desert kingdom’s Public Investment Fund (PIF).
The long-suffering supporters will not be distracted for long. They understand that the first priority for Newcastle is a relegation fight. The team’s immediate fate will be defined in places like Selhurst Park, where they face Crystal Palace tomorrow. Europe is a remote fantasy. The Championship is a likelier destination in the short term.
Graeme Jones has taken over first-team duties after the departure of Steve Bruce and that has given the squad’s morale a boost but Newcastle are in a mess. Palace have won just once this season but Patrick Vieira’s side have shown signs of improvement. They were unfortunate to concede a last-gasp equaliser in the 2-2 draw with Arsenal on Monday. Early indications are that Palace are good enough to finish mid-table.
Newcastle are not. After the departure of Mike Ashley, it was hoped that the new owners would change the momentum at St James’ Park. That has not happened yet. The air of chaos surrounding the team remains.
The timing of the takeover meant there was bound to be uncertainty. The Premier League rubber-stamped the deal at the worst time for the consortium – between transfer windows and at a point when most of their managerial targets were in jobs. Some settling-in pains were to be expected. Any time three parties are involved in a business deal there will be a period when responsibilities need to be defined. Plans need to be readjusted in the face of reality.
Nevertheless, there is a feeling that the first two weeks of the new regime have not gone as smoothly as expected. The priority should have been a new footballing structure but Newcastle seem to not yet have a clear vision of how to go forward.
They are in a relegation scrap but all the managers under consideration prefer to play “pretty” football. The first requirement should be for the side to stop conceding goals. Given the standard of the defenders on the books, a serious amount of coaching will be necessary to stiffen the back line. Geordies love to see their team attack but a flamboyant approach will spell disaster. Unless they tighten up, they are going down.
Selhurst will provide a taste of what’s to come for Newcastle on and off the pitch. Steve Parish, the Palace chairman, has been vocal in the Premier League meetings designed to limit the impact of Saudi money and sponsorships. Staveley and co will get an icy welcome in top-flight boardrooms.
The reaction of the home supporters will be instructive. Newcastle now inspire a complex set of emotions in opposing fans: jealousy that the club is suddenly rich; fear that they will buy their way, Manchester City-style, to the top; and contempt and disgust for Saudi Arabia’s record on human rights, LGBT issues and the treatment of women. The Holmesdale Fanatics greeted Chelsea with banners that said, “Roman’s [Abramovich] dirty money is a disease that has plagued our game.” They spelled out their feelings for City with the words, “You got the money, we got the soul.” Newcastle can expect a similar reception. Away games will be more hostile from now on.
The takeover has upped the ante. Overnight, Newcastle have become the team everyone wants to beat. Jones’s squad is not equipped to deal with this. They lack the talent and mentality to cope with the sort of treatment coming their way.
Forget the big ideas in Newcastle. The club needs to get back to basics, especially in the boardroom. Tough times lie ahead.
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