Newcastle United in China: Joelinton, transfer strategy and dressing-room reaction to Steve Bruce
Our man Miles Starforth is out in China this week covering Newcastle United’s Premier League Asia Trophy campaign.
The Magpies got off to a shocker of a start against Wolves – a 4-0 loss – and face West Ham United in Shanghai on Saturday morning. The one positive to come from the trip is that at least the club have a new manager, with Steve Bruce taking training this morning.
But what has morale been like in camp, and where does the Bruce appointment leave United’s possible takeover and transfers?
We’ve caught up with Miles in the Far East for a special Q&A, where he talks the Bin Zayed Group takeover, Bruce’s say on transfers and what next after the imminent arrival of Brazilian Joelinton for a possible club record fee.
Q: How have the players and coaches found the trip to China?
The main talking point has been the heat and humidity. The players have found it hard to train and play in the stifling heat - it’s 31 degrees as I write this and the humidity is also very, very high at times. Otherwise, the players have enjoyed the trip so far. It’s a new experience and a change of scenery.
Q: Behind the scenes, have things been as disorganised as people seem to think they are?
Not at all, and that may come as a surprise. One thing that has struck me is the professionalism of the players. They’ve worked well under Ben Dawson and Neil Redfearn. The players have praised them for the sessions they’ve been putting on. That said, the club needed a manager, a focal point. We’ll see how things develop now.
Q: What is the mood like in camp after the Wolves defeat?
The players I spoke to admitted that the performance simply wasn’t good enough. That said, it was their first game, and they knew they were slightly behind Wolves in their pre-season. United, unquestionably, are playing catch-up after a summer of upheaval and uncertainty, and that’s not ideal. The next couple of games will give us more an indication of where the team is in terms of its preparation.
Q: How have the players reacted to Bruce's arrival?
I’ve only spoken to a handful of players about Bruce, but they’ve all been positive on and off the record. Those that haven’t worked under him what to get to work and see what he’s all about, while Isaac Hayden and Achraf Lazaar are looking forward to playing for him again. The players, above all else, wanted an end to the uncertainty and to know the plan for this season.
Q: What next on transfers for Newcastle United?
Now Bruce has been appointed, I think we’ll see some movement on transfers. I expect Joelinton to sign from Hoffenheim, and more arrivals between now and the transfer deadline. Watch this space.
Q: How much do you think Newcastle have to spend this summer?
The assumption is that the club has at least £50million to spend plus money from incoming transfers, though that figure may have to cover fees and wages too. Fans, however, are sceptical, and that’s not surprising given that Rafa Benitez had to sell to buy last summer. We’ll see. It’s also worth pointing out that Bruce is a head coach and Steve Nickson is in charge of the club’s recruitment.
Q: And do you think they will spend it?
See above. Time will tell.
Q: What areas do you think Bruce, and those above him, will be targeting over the next 21 days?
The obvious one is a striker, and Joelinton should fill that slot. Otherwise, the wide areas and left-back are positions the club has been looking to strengthen for some time.
Q: Do you expect any high-profile players to leave before transfer deadline day?
Yes, though it’s far from clear who will be leaving given that Bruce will want to assess his players first. I still expect a bid from Manchester United for Sean Longstaff, though the club’s position has been that he’s not for sale. Also, Jonjo Shelvey insisted this week that he doesn't want to leave.
Q: Apart from transfers what else do you believe is high on Bruce's agenda at United?
Bruce, it seems, will have input into transfers, but not the final say like Benitez. It’s all about results for him. He knows the only way he will win over fans is by winning games, and that’s all that matters.
Q: What do you think the Bruce appointment does for any prospective takeover?
I think it suggests that a takeover isn’t imminent and that Mike Ashley will still be owner for the forseeable future.
Q: Do you envisage Bruce arranging any further pre-season games in order to get to know his players?
He might want to arranged some behind-closed-doors games, but probably not any higher-profile fixtures. The gap between this Saturday’s game and the Hibernian friendly on July 30 was designed to allow the players to recover from the China trip.