It is easy to get carried away when it comes to Newcastle’s transfer plans because there is so much hysteria surrounding them. Gossip and speculation, by definition, needs very little substance to fly, and the reality of the situation at St James’ Park has quickly become misconstrued as a result.
The wealth of the club’s ownership, a consortium led by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund, has distorted perceptions somewhat. There is an implication, because of what has happened at clubs in similar positions, namely Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain, that Newcastle’s spending will immediately be on the same scale. While ambitions are to one day compete on a similar footing as both of those clubs, the football landscape is totally different to what it was when City and PSG were taken over by investors from Abu Dhabi and Qatar in 2008 and 2011 respectively. In fact, it is different precisely because of them.
Wealth no longer transfers straight into spending power. Financial Fair Play rules, while widely mocked by some, do mean that, without lucrative sponsorship deals which will allow Newcastle to generate their own income streams, they are limited in what they can do to a certain extent. The controversial announcement of a partnership with ‘Noon’, a company part owned by PIF, is the first step.
Inheriting the club from previous owner Mike Ashley has offered an advantage in one sense; notorious for underspending and his attempts to operate in a minimalistic fashion, he left more room for development under the constraints of the rules. It has been reported that Newcastle can spend up to £200m in their first two transfer windows as a baseline, and they paid over £90m for five players in January.
But a key factor in Ashley’s approach to cheaper operations came in sponsorship. For years, he plastered the name of his sportswear brand all over the stadium without paying a penny, and when he eventually did, it was nothing like the going rate. There were no major kit deals being signed, and shirt sponsors were an afterthought. Commercially, Newcastle ceased to be a force, which they had been when Ashley bought the club. Forget fulfilling potential, the Magpies were shrinking in every sense, on and off the pitch.
So while those new, expensive deals, and the ambitions they allow to be realised may well be in the near future, there has to be a sense of calm pragmatism this summer. For the most part, that is the view taken by supporters; for all the talk of Neymar or Kylian Mbappe’s names being drawn up on shortlists, which underpinned the early days of the new regime, there has been an appreciation for the professional outlook the club have taken to their immediate growth. There is a sense of understanding towards their current position, and a longer-term view of how to improve upon it.
Other clubs, from whom Newcastle hope to sign players this summer, may have preconceived ideas about who they are facing in negotiations. Prices are higher because of what they can offer in theory, but aside from the rules in place, the fact the ownership are committed to a more organic growth of the club means they are refusing to be held to ransom. While this means that deals are tasking longer than some people are willing to accept, and Newcastle are not blowing rivals and sellers out of the water, it offers an insight into the way the club is going about it’s business.
Not only are they refusing to be bullied, but they are achieving better deals as a result. Kieran Trippier and Nick Pope are both England regulars and cost a combined fee of under £25m; Dan burn and Matt Targett complete a full defensive reshuffle for less than £30m on top. With the exception of Chris Wood, a £25m arrival after a release clause was activated in January from Burnley, every transfer has been in direct correlation with the players’ actual value, or significantly less.
So far, it has been about putting out fires at Newcastle. But in Trippier and Bruno Guimaraes, in particular, there are examples of the sort of power the club can wield in the market. Sven Botman, the 22-year-old Dutch centre back from Lille, widely regarded as their top target, will likely prove another once he signs this week. Then attention is set to turn to striking options; after the Hugo Ekitike deal hit a reported snag, there is a good chance that another big signing will come in that area.
But things will take time. This is not the sort of swashbuckling summer that PSG or City enjoyed. It will be more measured, more considered and improvement will be more organic. That has already been seen, with performance on and off the pitch improving at the hands of director of football Dan Ashworth and manager Eddie Howe.
It’ll be a stop-start few weeks for Newcastle, but the important thing is to understand and enjoys the journey. The outlook is much brighter than before.