The damning list of issues that Newcastle United’s new owners must address after £300m takeover
Just where do you start?
Newcastle United’s new owners have a huge job on their hands – on and off the pitch.
A £300million takeover by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) and Amanda Staveley and Jamie Reuben was confirmed on Thursday after the Gulf kingdom settled a dispute with Qatari broadcaster beIN Sports.
PIF, Staveley and Reuben’s RB Sports & Media plan to invest in the club – and the city.
Gone is Mike Ashley’s unambitious ownership – and in its place is an ambitious new ownership group looking to elevate a club which has spent much of the past 14 years fighting relegation.
Here, we look at the problems and issues that need to be addressed at the club, which has been hollowed out and neglected over the past 14 years.
First things first, they must address matters on the field.
The winless club is 19th in the Premier League with three points from seven games. That form will get the club relegated.
Newcastle fans, it’s clear, want a managerial change. There have been “we want Brucie out” chants for weeks, and more than 94% of respondents to a Newcastle United Supporters Trust (NUST) survey in the wake of last weekend’s 2-1 defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers said they wanted Steve Bruce to resign “in the best interests of Newcastle United”.
It seems inconceivable that the club’s new owners will keep faith with Bruce given this season’s form – and the deep dissatisfaction on Tyneside with his performance as head coach, though Staveley has insisted that no decision has yet been taken on his future.
Bruce, most likely, will be the first casualty of the new administration, though dismissing him will be costly, as his contract doesn’t expire in next summer.
The international break, at least, gives the hierarchy time to come to a decision ahead of the October 17 home game against Tottenham Hotspur.
The January transfer window
Bruce was left with a weakened squad relative to the club’s Premier League rivals following a summer transfer window which saw only one player, midfielder Joe Willock, arrive at St James’s Park.
There are four goalkeepers in the club’s 25-man squad, and Bruce didn’t replace a departed striker, Andy Carroll, before the deadline.
Willock, a former loanee, was a welcome addition to the squad, but the squad needed strengthening elsewhere, notably up front, and the club’s new owners must now plan for the January window.
Newcastle, under ambitious new ownership, will be an easier sell to prospective signings.
Communication with fans
The club’s Fans Forum has not met since September 2018, and NUST chair Greg Tomlinson laid bare the state of relations with the club this week.
“We have dialogue,” said Tomlinson. “We would say it needs to be better, more regular, and more meaningful. We talk to other Premier League club groups, and almost all of them, apart from Newcastle and West Ham, communicate very well with their supporter trusts.
“The two outliers are Newcastle and West Ham, who don’t even try. We would say the club don’t meet the minimum standards set by the Premier League.”
The new owners must re-establish links, and re-engage, with supporters and fan groups as a matter of urgency.
Media relations have not been a strength of the club since it was bought by Ashley in 2007 – and things have got worse over the past couple of years.
The club attempted to open up during Rafa Benitez’s time as manager, but things have deteriorated since Bruce’s appointment two years ago.
Admittedly, the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t helped – the Premier League behind went closed doors for more than a year, and interviews have had to be done via video calls – but Bruce has been the only senior figure to communicate with journalists, and players are rarely made available for interview to non-rights-holders.
Managing director Lee Charnley, the key decision-maker at St James’s Park, does not speak to the media, and as such, Bruce and his predecessors have been left to face questions on decisions that have been taken above their heads.
The club issued a lengthy statement following the closing of the summer transfer window, yet, oddly, it was unsigned. Bruce, again, was left to defend the indefensible.
Senior figures at the club are acutely sensitive to criticism, yet at the same time they are seemingly unwilling to engage with the media and change the narrative.
The stadium and infrastructure
We’ve all seen the photographs circulated on social media of dangling cables, damp toilets, tiny TVs and out-dated decor and furniture.
Fans used to poke fun at the pink seats at the Stadium of Light, but, truth be told, St James’s Park has long needed major facelift.
United have previously stressed that the stadium is well-maintained, but just £200,000 was spent on infrastructure in 2019/20. The club has spent a “feeble” £11million on infrastructure under Ashley up to last July, according to analysis from Swiss Ramble.
Ashley, of course, also sold off a parcel of land behind the Gallowgate end which was previously owned by the club, precluding possible expansion on that side of the stadium. The new development will change the city’s iconic skyline forever.
Also, the club desperately needs a new training ground. The club revealed plans for a “stunning new state-of-the-art training complex” in 2013, but it was never built. Instead, the old building was updated.
The club’s Academy, headed up by former United goalkeeper Steve Harper, also needs more investment.
Harper and his team have some talented prospects on their books, but the club needs to invest more in its future stars.
Newcastle lost 16-year-old midfielder Bobby Clark to Liverpool in August.
“We’re disappointed that we lost him, because nobody wants to lose a good player,” said Bruce, who has promoted highly-rated midfielders Joe White and Elliot Anderson to his first-team squad.