Dan Ashworth is Newcastle’s best signing of the season

Will Ford
Brighton technical director Dan Ashworth stares at the media during a press conference
Dan Ashworth is a wanted man

Dan Ashworth has left Brighton and will become Newcastle’s new technical director. The shrewd moves continue at St James’ Park.

 

‘Only the size of the shirt will change’ – Dan Ashworth’s bite-sized summary of his England football manifesto in December 2014. Formerly on Norwich City’s books as a player, Ashworth was appointed the FA director of elite development in 2012 following directorships at Peterborough, Cambridge and West Brom. His ‘England DNA’ vision prescribed values on everything from playing style to players’ awareness of the England team’s history and promised everything – from travel arrangements to warm-up drills – would be the same across all age groups.

‘As a football nation we have long been characterised by our passion, fighting spirit and effort,’ Ashworth’s report said. ‘Although there are aspects of these characteristics we wish to retain, we do not wish to be solely defined by them.’ His vision has, in many ways, been realised.

Since that report, England have won the under-17 and under-20 World Cups. Phil Foden, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Jadon Sancho, Emile Smith Rowe, Conor Gallagher, Dean Henderson, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Fikayo Tomori were all members of those teams and have since earned full international call-ups. Reece James, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Mason Mount and many, many others have come through the international youth teams to not only make the full side but help them to the brink of glory.

Having played a significant role in the revitalisation of the England set-up, Ashworth moved to Brighton in the spring of 2019, where he’s continued to build on his reputation as a savvy, forward-thinking operator in charge of the club’s transfer comings and goings.

Much of the credit for Brighton’s rise to becoming an established Premier League club has rightly been apportioned to Graham Potter. But while one of the most in-vogue talents in English football has the Seagulls doing the business on the pitch, another has manoeuvred them into a position to make it possible. That Ashworth has been poached before Potter tells a story.

Ashworth is a shrewd, statement appointment by Newcastle: another smart move after a January transfer window of smart moves.

It may be the combination of all the money and because it’s Newcastle (who somehow still hold notoriety for being great Premier League entertainers despite not being hugely entertaining for two decades or more), but it felt like things would be a bit more bonkers than they have been. No bids for Zlatan Ibrahimovic? No possibility of Lionel Messi and Isaac Hayden pulling on the same shirt? Jose Mourinho was barely mentioned. It’s all been frustratingly competent, and Ashworth may prove to be their best acquisition of the season.

It’s early days but Newcastle’s January dealings did not suggest the club were in desperate need of someone new to take over transfer negotiations – on the face of it, all the moves made sense. But although they may not have been the sort of transfers we expected, and some sadistically hoped, they also weren’t players plucked from obscurity or players that required any great level of scouting or ingenuity.

Bruno Guimaraes had already drawn the attention of Arsenal and top teams in Europe before Newcastle paid £38m for him, Kieran Trippier is and has been a top-quality right-back at home and abroad for a decade or so, Chris Wood and Dan Burn are solid, well-known Premier League players. They all improve Newcastle and those involved in getting them through the door undoubtedly deserve credit. But they’re also not signings for which those individuals will be labelled wizards or, as is the latest trend in news reports, ‘transfer gurus’.

Tariq Lamptey controls the ball

Enter 50-year-old sage Dan Ashworth. Under his watch, Tariq Lamptey was plucked from Chelsea for £1m, Adam Lallana joined on a free transfer, Joel Veltman cost £900k, relative unknowns Leandro Trossard, Jakub Moder and Marc Cucurella were signed from Genk, Lech Poznan and Getafe respectively. In six transfer windows at Brighton, there have been many hits and no significant misses.

So the black-and-white Neymar jersey can go back in the drawer for now and the ‘how Newcastle could line up’ XIs will have a less fantastical look as we approach the summer. That’s a shame for those hoping for Newcastle implosion, but great news for Eddie Howe, the fans, and the club, who have appointed a safe but inspired pair of hands to clear a path through the nonsense and create a foundation for a successful future.