Jonjo Shelvey opens up on Newcastle United's takeover, the club's potential, 'below-par' training facilities – and his future under new owners
There’s a buzz in the city following Newcastle United’s takeover – and a buzz in the dressing room.
The city joyously reacted to the end of the Mike Ashley era last week after a £300million deal was finally approved by the Premier League.
Newcastle’s players also welcomed the “transformative” takeover, which, it’s hoped, can help propel the club, winless so far this season under Steve Bruce, back to the upper echelons of English – and European – football over the coming years.
The new era will start in earnest on Sunday, when Tottenham Hotspur visit a sold-out St James’s Park.
However, the first game since the takeover took place last night – and it was watched by just 304 fans.
Those supporters saw Isaac Westendorf, a teenage trialist who played for non-league club Barking last season, score in a 4-0 Premier League Cup win over Birmingham City.
Also in the team was long-serving midfielder Jonjo Shelvey, making his first appearance since August after recovering from a calf injury.
There was no sign of head coach Bruce, set to lose his job before the Tottenham game, at Whitley Park, where teenage captain Elliot Anderson was on target twice.
Change is coming on and off the pitch at United, and Shelvey, the first senior player to speak about the takeover, wants to be part of the future of the club he has served for the past five and a half years.
Asked where he was when he heard the news, the 29-year-old said: “I was at home, and had heard the whispers. Then the news broke – I didn’t realise how quickly things like that could happen.
“There’ll be an excitement around the training ground. But, as a player, you’ll feel a bit of excitement and nerves. I’ve got 18 months left on my contract, so it comes down to me to show the people in charge what I’m about. I have to look after No.1, it’s my career.
“So it is nerve-wracking, but I’m a positive person, and I’ll try to grasp the opportunity with both hands.
“It’s just great for the club. This club can achieve anything it wants, the sky’s the limit.
“In terms of the set-up, we all know the training-ground facilities are below par when it comes to Premier League standard. As players we’ve got on with it, and we’ve had to deal with that to the best of our ability. The money just hasn’t been there. That was hard to accept.
“But the money will be there now. I understand you can’t go spending so much straight away, and it’ll be a long process, but it’s one that this club and the fans deserve.
“It’s unbelievable for the club. The fans have been asking for this for a very long time. It’s great news for them.”
The club’s new owners – Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), Amanda Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners and Jamie Reuben’s RB Sports & Media – want the club, which hasn’t won a major trophy since 1969, to challenge for silverware, though they fully acknowledge that it will take time to transform the club.
Speaking last week, Staveley said: “We have the same ambitions as Manchester City and PSG in terms of trophies, absolutely, but that will take time.
“Do we want to win the Premier League within five to 10 years? Yes. This takeover is hugely transformative.”
Asked about the desire to compete in the Champions League and win trophies, Shelvey said: “I probably won’t be around when that does happen!
“I know how long that could take, but to hear someone come in and say that, as a footballer, it makes you want to stay and fight for a place to be a part of it, those aspirations and goals.”
Shelvey – who watched thousands fans celebrating at the stadium on TV last Thursday following the deal’s confirmation – went to see a friend play for Newcastle Blue Star the following night.
And jubilant supporters mobbed him at the club’s Scotswood home.
“I went to watch Newcastle Blue Star, my mate plays in goal,” said Shelvey. “There were about 1,000 fans there, (and) fully-grown men wearing Arab clothes. I couldn’t believe it.
“I got off at half-time, because I couldn’t really watch the game in the end, but it was mad.
“I was watching TV when the news broke, and those scenes outside the stadium were incredible. I was going to have a drive down. I wanted to get out there with a beer myself!
“That reaction at the stadium is unique. The fans have suffered a lot in the past, so I think what we saw was a release of frustration and relief that the deal had finally happened.
“Credit to the fans, too, because they have helped push this deal through. It gives us all so much to look forward to.”
It has long been claimed that top players don’t want to come to Newcastle, but Romford-born Shelvey, signed from Swansea City in January 2016, thinks otherwise.
“And that’s another thing, people say it will be hard to attract top-level players to Newcastle, because it’s not London or Manchester,” said Shelvey.
“But I’ve lived here for nearly six years, it’s a great place. There’s so much to do, and it’s a brilliant place to bring up your children. I can’t speak highly enough of this city and the area.”
But first things first. The 19th-placed club, which has taken three points from seven games, needs to stay in the Premier League – and, to do that, it needs to win games.
This group of players must get the club to January, when the transfer window reopens.
“First and foremost, we have to stay in the Premier League,” said Shelvey. “January will be a big month for the club.
“We have a short-term goal – and that’s just to get that first win. With the squad we’ve got, we can do that as soon as Sunday. After that it’s about stringing results together.
“When you look at some of the players we have, it’s frightening where we actually are. Hopefully, we can get everyone back fit now, and this (international) break has helped, and if we can keep everyone fit, then I believe we will climb the table.”
Shelvey will be available for the Tottenham game, after playing 79 minutes against Birmingham.
“I feel good,” said the former England international, who set up Westendorf’s opening goal. “It’s nice just to put the kit back on – and get some minutes.
“It (the Tottenham game) is going to be huge. We’ve really got to go and put on a show for the fans, because they’ll be right behind us. We can’t wait."
Shelvey, under contract until the summer of 2023, wants to stake his claim in front of the new owners – non-executive chairman and PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan is expeced to attend the Tottenham fixture – as they start to formulate their plans for the team.
“I understand what the fans want – they want Mbappe and Messi,” said Shelvey. “All I can say is that won’t come overnight – we have to be realistic.
“But I also know football. I’m contracted for 18 months, and, until I’m told I’m not wanted, I’ll give it my all. I’ll live life right, put the effort in, and, hopefully, stay in the team.