Newcastle way ahead of Man City on inexorable path to glory for state-owned behemoths

Will Ford

Newcastle have qualified for the Champions League earlier than anyone predicted. They’ve started state-owned life a hell of a lot better than Manchester City did….

592 days and £250m to take the second-worst team in the Premier League to the Champions League is very good going.

It took Newcastle’s state-run Premier League rivals – who finished ninth the season before Sheikh Mansour arrived – 981 days and £373m, and that figure would be significantly more in today’s money.

We can be uncomfortable with the catalyst of Newcastle’s Champions League qualification, just as we are with Manchester City’s dominance – with the money washed after being dirtied by the pockets of human rights deniers – while being impressed by the method.

Manchester City’s first signing under their mega-monied regime was Robinho, a marquee transfer of great repute who predictably failed to settle in a team of relative also-rans; Newcastle’s was Kieran Trippier, an understated and underrated full-back signed for a bargain fee who’s just been nominated for Premier League Player of the Season.

City stuck by Mark Hughes for over a year, as even a tenth-place finish in 2008/09 wasn’t enough for him to be shown the door, while Steve Bruce lasted less than two weeks before Eddie Howe arrived and saw them comfortably clear of relegation in his first season and into the Champions League in his second with a game to spare.

And while Newcastle wouldn’t have qualified for the Champions League without the money, which has lured Bruno Guimaraes, Alexander Isak and Sven Botman to St James’ Park, just like Pep Guardiola at City, Howe has been Newcastle’s most valuable acquisition.

Fabian Schar, Miguel Almiron, Joelinton, Sean Longstaff, Jacob Murphy and Callum Wilson are unrecognisable from the players they were when he took over. It would have been laughable to think in the summer of 2021 that in 2023 they would be playing in the Champions League. They’ve all improved to such a degree that it’s hard to imagine any manager in world football getting more from them in such a short space of time.

Many deemed Howe a managerial placeholder; someone to steady the ship ahead of big-name appointment. But the point at which Newcastle will outgrow him now feels as though it’s quite some distance along their seemingly inexorable path to glory, if it comes at all.

Howe Newcatle

In the Sky Sports package before kick-off on Monday two of the Newcastle fans interviewed said they would have taken a top ten finish at the start of the season, and while Newcastle’s achievement can be caveated by the sh*tshow at Chelsea and the poor showings from Tottenham and Liverpool, it remains extraordinary that they’ve so efficiently broken the Big Six stranglehold on the top four, which has seen Leicester as the only other Premier League side to qualify for the Champions League proper since Newcastle last did two decades ago.

That’s Leicester, who topped their Champions League group in the 2016/17 season before being dumped out by Atletico Madrid in the quarter-finals, and are now staring down the barrel of Premier League relegation.

Phase one of Dean Smith’s plan worked on Monday night as five at the back and three defensive midfielders in front of them kept Newcastle at bay, though the post came to their aid on a number of occasions. Phase two, which saw Harvey Barnes and James Maddison introduced in the second half, made little difference to their mindset, and led to them managing just two touches in the Newcastle box before their first shot in stoppage time, which saw Nick Pope prevent the unlikeliest of smash and grabs.

The point isn’t great for Leicester, who now need to beat West Ham on the final day and hope Everton fail to win at home against Bournemouth. But it’s enough for Newcastle, who have achieved Champions League qualification in double-quick time.

City won the Premier League title in their debut Champions League season, five years before the reason Newcastle can’t hope to do the same arrived at the Etihad.

But Pep Guardiola will leave one day, and given the superior way in which Newcastle have grown under their wealthy benefactors, by that point they could be ready to forge their very own era of Premier League dominance, with domestic commitments now punctuated by games against the European elite.