Almost as soon as the Saudi Arabia-backed takeover of Newcastle United was confirmed, the photoshopped images of soccer superstars in the club’s colours started to circulate. Erling Haaland, Kylian Mbappe, Neymar… they were all depicted in the Magpies’ famous black and white shirt, hinting at what the future might hold for the St James’ Park outfit.
The long-suffering Newcastle United faithful are entitled to dream. Their club has spent the last decade-and-a-half having its ambition limited by a detached owner with no real drive to do more than the bare minimum. Newcastle United, one of English soccer’s most storied clubs, has finished in the top half of the Premier League table only twice in the last nine years.
Now, though, Mike Ashley is gone and in his place is a consortium with more resources than any other ownership group in all of European soccer. Oil money has reshaped the sport over the last 15 years, but the success enjoyed by Chelsea, Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain might just be a precursor to the precedent Newcastle United are about to set.
However, the Magpies must acknowledge the reality of their current situation before they can start plotting their route to the top of the English and European game. With eight rounds of fixtures already played, Steve Bruce’s side find themselves second bottom of the Premier League table without a single win. They are in a relegation battle.
This means the criteria Newcastle United are looking to fulfill with their recruitment and the potential appointment of a new manager has to be different today from what it might be in the future. They need players and characters who can stop them from falling into the Championship at the end of the season.
Of course, it’s imperative that Newcastle United put in place the right sporting structure to thrive in the modern game. For all the resources Abu Dhabi-backed Manchester City boast, they have been wise enough to hired a sporting director and technical staff to prevent the club from lurching between managerial appointments. Even when Pep Guardiola leaves the Etihad Stadium, the principles left behind will sustain City for years to come.
Newcastle United might wish, with good reason, to follow the same path and hire a Director of Football figure to help guide the club in all areas, but that process cannot be rushed. But the Magpies don’t have much time to turn around their season. They must quickly devise a strategy for the January transfer window to find the players required.
In the medium to long term, Newcastle United will have plenty time for project players and managers, but at this moment in time, in their current situation, they need players who can deliver immediately. This may push them towards targets like Jesse Lingard and James Tarkowski, players who are closer to 30 than is perhaps ideal.
Picking a new manager will also be tricky. Newcastle United might desire a big name like Antonio Conte to deliver a statement of intent, but what would the former Chelsea and Inter coach have to work with at St James’ Park right now? An appointment like Graham Potter might not be so wise either - would the Brighton boss be able to impose his ideas on a new group of players mid-season while fending off relegation?
City’s example, once again, could shine a light on the way forward for Newcastle United in this regard - see how the Etihad Stadium club hired Mark Hughes before they could lure world-class managers like Roberto Mancini, Manuel Pellegrini and Guardiola. They may have to employ a scaled progression.
A gap must be bridged. While fans armed with Photoshop have teased what the likes of Haaland and Mbappe would look like in black and white, Newcastle United won’t realistically be able to attract such stars in January. Before Kevin de Bruyne and Ruben Dias at Manchester City there was Stephen Ireland and Robinho. Before Lionel Messi at Paris Saint-Germain there was Javier Pastore.
This isn’t to say Newcastle United should limit their ambition for the sake of it. However, they mustn’t assume their newfound wealth will be enough to keep them in the Premier League this season. The Magpies must still earn their place in the English top flight before they can begin thinking about winning it.