Newcastle need more than money; they need nous and a plan

Ian King
Alain Saint-Maximin of Newcastle United

Newcastle United aren’t going to be landing Unai Emery as their new manager, but what do they want the club to be? Is there even a plan?

In some respects, not a great deal at St James’ Park has changed since Newcastle United were purchased by a consortium headed by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund. On the pitch, the team has picked up one point from the three matches played since the Premier League waved the contentious sale through, and they remain rooted to the relegation places with only Norwich City’s current haplessness keeping them off the bottom of the table.

But in another sense, quite a lot has changed. Talk has shifted from the cobwebs that need clearing from the club to how much they’re going to spend in the January transfer window, and also to the subject of who the new manager might be. Steve Bruce has gone, but his position hasn’t yet been filled. Graeme Jones is the interim manager but unsurprisingly, considering that the club cannot sign any new players until the start of the new year, results and performances have not improved.

The quest for a replacement for Bruce had been narrowed down to Unai Emery and Eddie Howe, and the press started to work itself into a lather on the assumption that the Spaniard was going to accept the job, only for this apparently done deal to flounder, with Spanish football expert Guillem Balague stating that those advising Emery were ‘left feeling uncertain about the club’s strategy’, which may be a polite way of saying that it was not clear that those running the club have much idea of what they’re actually doing.

It might be argued that this is an unfair interpretation of the new owners’ actions so far, but there are hints to be found elsewhere too. Emery and Howe seem to have found themselves on a shortlist of two, despite being very different managers with very different histories and skill sets. And in all of this noise, there have also been other names connected with the club in recent weeks such as Paulo Fonseca, a third different coach with a third different skill set.

But nothing is guaranteed. It’s been rumoured for some time that Howe is holding out in the hope of getting the Southampton job, if or when that becomes available. And if results don’t start improving soon under Graeme Jones, it’s tempting to start wondering whether they might even have triggered Steve Bruce’s ejector seat a little prematurely.

Emerging details of Emery’s reasons for turning down the position all point in the same direction. Newcastle want to hire an elite level manager, but they haven’t yet appointed a chief executive or a director of football, and it has also been reported that Emery was extremely unhappy at being put in a position in which he had to answer questions about the Newcastle job when he had an extremely important Champions League match with his current club, Villarreal.

All of this leads us back to an intriguing question: what do the new owners of the club want Newcastle United to be? In one sense, this is a question with a fairly straightforward answer. They’ll want Newcastle to be as successful as it can be. But in another altogether more practical sense, the question itself becomes a little trickier, because in order to get to that endpoint, even with owners richer than Croesus and a club that can easily attract more than 50,000 to a home game, there are hurdles in the way.

Newcastle are currently involved in a scrap to avoid relegation to the Championship, and the prospect of the club being relegated this season remains very real indeed. The players aren’t good enough, and there remains no manager in place to improve them. No new signings can be made for the best part of two months, and even then the club will have just a month to secure the signatures they need to put up a fight throughout the second half of the season. Is the manager they want one who will guarantee staying in the Premier League this season? Is it someone who is more experienced in the Championship? Are their eyes set so firmly on the Champions League that these considerations aren’t even being taken into account?

The new owners of Newcastle United are fabulously wealthy. That much, we know for certain. What’s less certain is who they’re currently taking advice from – if anybody at all – and what their current plans are. Nothing can be ascertained from the managers who seem to have ended up on their short list, because they’re all so different. If anything, rather than making appointments that are guaranteed to make headlines, they should be focusing a little more on less glamorous ones instead, on a sporting director and a CEO, which would at least give a little better shape to their football operations.

And the good news for the club is that while money doesn’t buy the knowledge and competency required to successfully run a Premier League (or EFL) football club, it does buy access to those who do. With the transfer window not opening for two months, the club could hold fire on bringing in a new manager and listen very carefully to an advisor, or they could find experienced executives and professionals who can join the dots behind the scenes at the club. There is no-one who’s come into Newcastle in the last few weeks with any previous experience of running a football club, and it’s already starting to show. These scattergun stories will only be putting off the very people that the club will want to attract, exactly as happened in the farcical case of Unai Emery.