23 Tháng Năm, 2024

Eyes on Magpies: Newcastle take on the challenge of moving to the next phase | Newcastle United

to meddie Howe is too used to being second. The Newcastle manager is currently trying to ignore the Amazon camera crew who follow him almost every step of the way as he shoots the latest installment of the All or Nothing series of football documentaries.

It’s not something Howe particularly wanted to be part of, but the Saudi Arabian club’s majority owners wanted Newcastle to follow in the footsteps of Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham, offering a new public a window into their world.

Whether it will be opened wide enough to contain any revealing insights into the hitherto secret upper tiers of the Saudi Arabian club hierarchy remains to be seen, but Howe’s attempt to disrupt the established top order in the Premier League promises to be convincing.

“Privacy is important; When you’re dealing with players, there are certain things that should never escape the walls of the training ground,” said the manager, trying to keep the cameras away from the family home. “It’s delicate, but I can’t go against the club. I will always support them in whatever endeavor they try to pursue. As long as it doesn’t cross the line!”

Perhaps he and Pep Guardiola will be able to discuss the art of counter-surveillance on the training ground when Newcastle travel to Manchester City on Saturday, hoping to repeat their challenge in Champions League qualifiers.

City’s Abu Dhabi-based ownership model provides something of a template, although by the time 2017-18 Amazon began to follow Guardiola and its City players were well on their way to winning the Premier League and the League Cup.

Only last Sunday did Newcastle reach the final of the latter competition, losing 2-0 to Manchester United. Soon after, in a national radio interview, UK club director and minority shareholder Amanda Staveley pledged that the team would recover and win the Champions League, Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup. Fortunately for Howe’s equilibrium, no time frame was proposed.

“I love Amanda’s positive attitude,” he said somewhat cautiously on Friday, shortly before his side flew to Manchester to claim their first win in five league games. “I love her worldview. I do not have a problem with that. All I would say is that if we set goals that are perhaps too short-term, it can have a negative impact and create external pressure that players don’t need.

Newcastle are off to an excellent start in fifth place, but Howe is entering a potentially very risky new phase in his tenure. After saving the team from relegation last season and reaching the long-awaited final at Wembley, its challenge is to translate the owners’ £250m investment in players into European qualifiers.

“The next leap forward is more difficult,” said the manager, who was probably an above-average performer. “In my shoes, time is a very small commodity. The speed with which the team has improved has been so fast that people assume it will just keep going, but it’s not that easy. It becomes increasingly difficult to keep moving on an upward trajectory. Getting better gets harder the higher you go. There are great challenges ahead and we will have to be smart. My work will be judged on our evolution.

“I probably felt a bit locked in after Sunday’s final. The end of phase one is perhaps a good way to put it. Now we’re going to have to build and improve the roster – you need investment to really compete at the elite level – but I also need to improve the players I have here.

Individual contributions are meticulously scrutinized with Ryan Fraser deemed inexperienced and the former Scottish winger exiled to train with the under-21 team for what Howe says are “group benefits”.

Newcastle’s main stakeholder, the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund, was subject to a different scrutiny this week. When a piece of legislation filed in a United States court case involving the PGA Tour and rival PIF-backed LIV Golf described Newcastle chairman and PIF governor Yasir al-Rumayyan as “the current minister of the Saudi government”, the club’s rivals smelled blood.

Given that in 2021 Premier League chief executive Richard Masters said his organization had received “legally binding assurances” that “the Saudi state would not control Newcastle”, this has raised questions as to whether Masters should carry out the threat to remove the current owners if conflicting evidence emerges.

In fact, the Premier League has always known that Rumayyan is a member of the Saudi national administration – publicly available PIF legal documents clearly state that its governor must be a government minister – yet Masters was convinced there was no direct state involvement in Newcastle’s governance.

Regardless of the moral rights and wrongs of a geopolitical takeover involving considerable realpolitik, these readily available PIF documents make the rump of the top clubs fighting for Saudi Arabia’s alleged duplicity seem disingenuous and opportunistic.

But if Tottenham and co fear pressure from a very wealthy north-east power base, the Newcastle manager faces the more pressing problem of preventing this season from unraveling.

With his influential centre-forward Callum Wilson out of shape and a stretched squad, a place in the top four could prove elusive. However, Howe is well aware that the Saudis want a happy ending.

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