AMONG the hundreds, possibly thousands, that celebrated outside St James’ Park as news broke of Newcastle United’s Saudi Arabia-backed takeover being completed, one supporter brought along a replica of the Champions League trophy. Where he got the replica, and why he had it, remains unclear, but it served as an emblem of the ambition now felt in the North East.
With the backing of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world with total estimated assets of at least $500 billion, Newcastle United fans are entitled to believe their club can reach the top of English and European football. Their team is almost certain to drastically improve over the coming years.
However, the Magpies mustn’t lose sight of their current situation. Newcastle United might have more money than any other Premier League club, but that isn’t much use to them right now with the transfer window closed for another two-and-a-half months. For the time being, they find themselves in a relegation battle.
Newcastle United’s first task in the PIF era will be to appoint a new manager. Reports claim Steve Bruce will be sacked this week in a symbolic effort to win over fans – Bruce was widely seen as a manifestation of the maligned Mike Ashley age – and it’s crucially important the St James’ Park outfit find the right replacement otherwise they could find themselves in the Championship by next summer.
Antonio Conte has been mentioned as a potential candidate to take over. Roberto Martinez, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Graham Potter are also believed to be on Newcastle United’s shortlist. Conte’s appointment would immediately announce the Magpies as a force to be reckoned with, but they need a manager who can keep them up first and foremost. Conte might not be the best man for that particular job.
Newcastle United have their sights set high under their new ownership
Here's a look at the latest odds for their next Head Coach/Manager
— Unibet (@unibet) October 12, 2021
Before getting ahead of themselves, Newcastle United should look at how it took Manchester City years to position themselves as Premier League title challengers. It took the Etihad Stadium club three seasons to merely qualify for the Champions League, and this was at a time when competition at the top of the English game wasn’t as stiff as it is now.
City needed Mark Hughes to give them a platform to build on before Roberto Mancini, Manuel Pellegrini and Pep Guardiola took the club to silverware. They signed players like Roque Santa Cruz, Joleon Lescott and Robinho before they could convince Europe’s best to make the move to the Etihad Stadium. City had to learn to walk before they could run.
This isn’t to say that Newcastle United should limit their ambition when looking for Bruce’s replacement. However, they must recognise that the criteria their new manager must fulfil right now might be different to the criteria applied to a manager who can, at some point in the future, take them to the top.
Potter, for instance, would surely struggle to impose his ideas on the current Newcastle United squad mid-season. The 46-year-old has made a profound impression at Brighton, but it has taken him more than a full season to get the Seagulls to the point that they might realistically target a top half finish. Potter’s methods might not be well-suited to a relegation scrap.
There has been a suggestion Newcastle United might look to hire a Director of Football before they start the search for a new manager. This might not be such a bad idea. While the Magpies now have the money to build a winning team, they need smart people in place to lead the recruitment process. That process will include the appointment of the right manager.