Newcastle United paying Toon Tax for Sandro Tonali and it won’t be the last time in Stage Two

Dave Tickner
Newcastle players celebrate their goal against Brighton

It’s going to be a very interesting summer at Newcastle, isn’t it?

That was already pretty obvious, but events of the last week have heightened that sense, with the sudden and convenient flurry of transfers to the four Saudi Arabian clubs now bankrolled, like Newcastle, by PIF.

While it’s Chelsea’s FFP calculations reaping the most tangible and convenient benefits right now, what it all means for Newcastle is going to be just as significant over the weeks and months ahead.

There is already talk that Ruben Neves’ grimly depressing Saudi move could be followed by an absolute piss-take of a loan move to St James’ Park. It’s only a day since we joked about that happening in January and already it looks like it could well happen sooner. It would certainly be a move to open the few eyes that remain closed to what’s happening.

Newcastle are also close to signing Sandro Tonali from AC Milan. It’s a significant move, securing Eddie Howe’s reported No. 1 midfield target for the summer and doing so nice and early. But, while neither Newcastle’s fans nor owners will be particularly perturbed, there is definitely the first real signs of a ‘Toon Tax’ in a deal that’s going to cost them £60m rather than the initially reported £42m and a quarter-of-a-million quid a week in wages.

That hefty pay packet is the sort of thing we’re likely to see more as Newcastle embark on stage two of their plot for world domination.

Stage one was completed near flawlessly and at least 12 months ahead of schedule. But it was much easier. Stage one involved mainly bringing in players for whom Newcastle specifically or the Premier League generally marked a clear step-up in level. Newcastle’s bright future and new-found wealth made them far more attractive a proposition than any other mid-table Premier League team last summer, but nobody they’ve signed until now could individually be considered a player out of the orbit for a newly minted Premier League club.

That was really the genius of what Newcastle did last January and summer. They made a series of excellent signings, but not one individual move stood out at the time as a particular coup for a club in their unusual position. Smart, sensible, logical, practical and, yes, sometimes exciting. But there was nothing showy or ostentatious about it all.

And that goes right back to the first significant football decision Newcastle’s new owners made when installing Eddie Howe as manager.

But what comes next is going to be different and, even with their absurd wealth and new-found potential to manipulate the whole framework of the transfer system, trickier.

Newcastle are now upgrading a vastly superior squad to that of 12 months ago. And for all their dramatic and rapid progress, it still needs significant upgrading again.

And that means fishing in different and deeper waters. They will now find themselves in competition with the established Big Six and clubs on that level across the continent.

And no matter how good a prospect they look right now, Newcastle is still Newcastle and Eddie Howe is still Eddie Howe. It’s going to be hard to outshine the more established clubs no matter how enticing the proposals on offer.

James Maddison with the Newcastle United and Tottenham badges

The potentially worrying example for Newcastle is James Maddison. That is a transfer they should have concluded by now. It should have been easy. Champions League club with bottomless resources securing precisely the type and profile of player they need from a relegated club with no choice but to sell. Easy-peasy, as transfers go.

And yet it hasn’t happened yet. And there is still talk that Maddison himself would prefer to go to Spurs and play with Harry Kane.

If players would still prefer Europe-less Spurs because it’s in London and they get to play with Harry Kane for, at best, one season, then that’s a problem for Newcastle.

It’s not a criticism of anyone involved, apart from maybe Spurs (bless them). Rightly or wrongly it’s a fact that Newcastle with all the money remains a tougher sell to players than a London or even Manchester club with all the money.

It didn’t matter when they were getting so much so right in the first stage of revolutionising this squad and club, but it will become more and more of a factor now.

That’s not to say it’s a problem Newcastle can’t or won’t negotiate; we’ve literally never before seen a club with this level of resource behind it and all things really are possible. But how well they manage to do it will define how the next year or two of the project fares.

Get it right and they become a full part of the established elite themselves and it takes care of itself. But they’ve got to get it right.