Newcastle face anxious struggle before the good times can kick in after takeover

The club has lofty ambitions with a projected massive cash injection, but before that there are big problems to overcome on the pitch

“We have the same ambitions as Manchester City and PSG in terms of trophies, absolutely,” said Newcastle’s new co-owner Amanda Staveley. She added a caveat — “that will take time” — but the current neighbours of a club with designs on joining the European elite are Burnley and Norwich. They are side by side in the bottom three.

Ambition and reality can be uncomfortable bedfellows. Newcastle have hope after a takeover but the Championship looms larger than the Champions League unless their fortunes on the pitch improve.

The new powerbrokers — Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners, the Reuben brothers’ RB Sports & Media and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund — did not create their current plight. Rather, part of Mike Ashley’s legacy becomes their problem.

Newcastle may now have the richest owners in world football. A mooted £190 million ($259m) budget in the winter transfer window could radically reshape the team. Yet for all the long-term importance, there is a short-term irrelevance. Newcastle have 13 games with this squad before then; at least 14, as newcomers would not be registered in time to face Southampton on New Year’s Day.

They have not won in seven matches this season and only have seven victories in their last 37 Premier League outings. By most markers, they are one of the poorest teams in the division: they have the joint worst defensive record, leaking 2.29 goals per game, with the most shots against them and the second most shots on target. They have had the fourth lowest share of possession. They have led in three games and won none. Only one of those seven matches has come against ‘big six’ opponents, so the fixture list has hardly been cruel.

There is the odd glimmer of cheer: only five teams have had more shots, even though Callum Wilson has missed the last four games. He averages a goal or an assist every 122 minutes for Newcastle in the Premier League while Allan Saint-Maximin’s return this season of two goals and three assists is healthy.

Fans celebrate takeover

But the flagship summer signing Joe Willock, who ended last season by scoring in seven consecutive games, has drawn a blank now. Miguel Almiron joins him on no goals and no assists. For now, Newcastle look dangerously reliant on Saint-Maximin and the injury-prone Wilson.

With Ashley depriving them of investment, much of the rest of the squad seems short of quality. Some of the players have remained simply because keeping them was cheaper than buying replacements. With each year since Rafa Benitez’s departure, Newcastle have lost some of the solidity and organisation he instilled.

The only immediate way of offering an upgrade is to sack Steve Bruce, a decision that feels an inevitability and would bring popularity, even if any successor would have to begin with the same mismatched squad.

Perhaps a mood shift will effect a difference: Newcastle have been a depressed club, shorn of reasons to belief. Now there is an injection of optimism among the fanbase. Whereas Ashley had resorted to giving season tickets away in 2019-20, Sunday’s game against Tottenham is now a sell-out. Perhaps a different atmosphere around St James’ Park will be a galvanising force in itself.

Perhaps it will need to be. Before Newcastle can strengthen, they can eye a November date with Brentford on Tyneside and then a run of four December days when they host Norwich and Burnley. Chances for home wins assume still more significance as they precede a run against Leicester, Liverpool, the Manchester clubs and Everton.

Newcastle could be forgiven for wanting to press fast-forward to 2022, but it would be an inauspicious start for new owners to enter a potentially transformative year in the relegation zone.

Newcastle salaries for the 2021-22 season

Updated: October 9th 2021, 12:17 PM
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