Dan Ashworth opens up on Newcastle United's transfer business as club sets new targets

Dan Ashworth didn't have time to get his feet under the table at Newcastle United.

After a long spell of gardening leave at Brighton and Hove Albion, Ashworth, the club's new sporting director, was pitched into the summer’s transfer window without a pause for breath.

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Ashworth, though, was ready for the “challenge” he has faced since arriving in the North East in June after Newcastle came to an agreement with Brighton, where he had been in a similar role.

Club-record signing Alexander Isak.

“First and foremost, I’ve loved it,” said Ashworth. “It’s a fantastic place to work, a brilliant football club.

"I knew how passionate Newcastle United fans were, but whether that’s popping across the road to get a sandwich, or with 52,000 people here in the stadium, it really has taken me by surprise just how much the club means to them, and pleasantly surprised.

"It’s been brilliant. I’ve loved being here. I’ve loved the challenge.”

The club ended the window with four new players – Alexander Isak, Sven Botman, Nick Pope and Matt Targett – and brought in free agent Loris Karius after the deadline following an injury to Karl Darlow.

Newcastle United sporting director Dan Ashworth, pictured at the 2018 World Cup when he was working at the Football Association.

Those deals took the club’s spending since last year’s takeover to more than £200million.

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A number of high-earning players, notably Dwight Gayle, were also moved out of the club over the summer, while the Under-21 team was also strengthened with the likes of Jude Smith and Alex Murphy.

There was also some contractual housekeeping with new deals for head coach Eddie Howe and 19-year-old midfielder Elliot Anderson, who has established himself as a first-team player this season following a half-season loan at Bristol Rovers in League Two.

“Being pitched into a summer window without building relationships and understanding how the board work and how Eddie works and how the recruitment process works has been a challenge,” said Ashworth, who has also worked at the Football Association and West Bromwich Albion.

Summer signing Sven Botman, far left, celebrates with team-mates after January signing Bruno Guimaraes made it 3-1 to Newcastle United against Brentford on Saturday.
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"Obviously, you’re stuck within a real tight timeframe, because the transfer window closes on September 1. It was getting some players out and off our books, getting some players out on loan for a development pathway point of view (and) adjusting contracts, ie Elliot and the staff, and also bringing in some senior and some youth recruits.

"So we brought in five senior players, and Karius came in post-deadline, but four senior players that came straight into the first half, and also signed five players for the younger teams as well.”

The club, which had to work within the Premier League’s Profit and Sustainability rules, had also been looking for an additional signing, with another winger having been on Howe’s summer wishlist.

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Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe.

On balance, however, Ashworth was pleased with the quality and quantity of business the club did over the window.

Ashworth said: “I’ve done this job for 15 years now, and I don’t think I’ve ever on the day after deadline day gone ‘that was perfect – we got everyone we wanted’.

"I always like, certainly in the emerging talent category, some more younger players to come into the system as well, (and) possibly one more to support the first team.

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"In the main, really pleased with the business that we did and the impact that the players we signed from a first-team point of view have had.”

Recruitment is only one part of Ashworth’s remit. The 51-year-old sees the club as a wheel, with the sporting director in the middle connecting all the spokes out to each department.

The club was hollowed out during Mike Ashley’s 14 years as owner, and Ashworth, focus on first-team pathways, is creating a new structure. Ashworth is also integrating Newcastle United Women, previously run by the Newcastle United Foundation, into the club itself.

"What I found when I first came here was some incredibly loyal, passionate and long-serving staff,” said Ashworth. "And the passion that the supporters have, and the staff that have been here a long time, is absolutely incredible.

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"I think that everybody would admit that there are certain areas of the club that have been run on more of a skeleton framework, and a survival basis, like 'if we can stay in the Premier League – that's fine or enough'.

"That's not enough any more. So, consequently, you have to upscale the majority of departments and facilities in order to try to achieve our goals, which are to finish higher up the league, to compete for trophies, and aspirational targets the trajectory the club is going towards over the next few years.

"So, consequently, there’s a building out of structures and capacity in order to be able to achieve that.

"Some things are probably stocked and fit for purpose. Other areas need improvement in terms of head count. Some, it's a facilities issue. So the training ground is going through a period of improving our capacity.

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"That's not only to fit more people in there, it's to improve it for players on recovery, on diet and nutrition. A lot of money has gone into new training pitches, for example.

"There's some short-term fixes you can have. But there's also some longer-term – a purpose-built training ground that can incorporate an academy, women’s and first-team. That may or may not be coming down the track.

"That's more the long-term, those are processes that are harder to fix."