It hasn’t been the summer many expected for Newcastle United. Despite on paper having the richest owners in the world, they have never purported to be such, because the reality is very different.
Scratching the surface from the moment the Saudi Arabian-backed consortium took control in October last year, it was clear that speculation linking the likes of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe with moves to St James’ Park was always unrealistic, but then those putting those stories on the back pages weren’t likely to be checking their authenticity.
The truth is, everything has been refreshing, in a football sense, for Newcastle. There has been a calm and competent approach to their evolution, unable to spend big on players properly without self-sustaining income like sponsorship deals. Under Mike Ashley, it was a bit of an oxymoron, where simultaneously nothing happened for long periods, yet the sense of impending circus never ceased. Now, at least, there is trust from the wider fanbase, even if some are still reacting as if Ashley is still owner.
For 14 years, silence meant just that; nothing would happen, the summer was often a frustrating time, with supporters knowing that whatever happened, the club had minimal interest in any sort of progression. While this window hasn’t seen Newcastle bulldoze the market like initially predicted, and there have been long spells of silence as deals prove difficult to do under constraints in place for a number of reasons, the fact the new owners have said and shown they want to improve the club on every level, albeit organically rather than fast-tracked, has bought them credit with supporters, even as time ticks down and no new attacking reinforcements have been found.
The need for such has been painstakingly obvious in the opening two games of the season. Four points and no defeats with no goals conceded is proof of improvement, especially considering it took 14 games to achieve a win last season, but both against Nottingham Forest and Brighton, penetration proved difficult. The final pass has been missing, and though Callum Wilson has already scored this season, the reality is that history suggests he will soon get injured. His goal threat is not matched by anyone else in the squad, a fact reportedly clear to the decision-makers at the club. That’s why a striker was said to be where the lions share of the relatively modest budget would go.
It isn’t for the want of trying. Hugo Ekitike, their main target dating all the way back to January, proved a very difficult deal to nail down before he eventually joined Paris Saint-Germain. They’ve been given price tags designed to intimidate when they’ve enquired about Ivan Toney and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, while loan interest in Armando Broja has been complicated by Chelsea’s own dearth of strikers.
A right winger has also been high on the agenda, with Bayer Leverkusen’s Moussa Diaby the main target. Again, though, the price was a stumbling block. Critics and a worried minority of fans have said that the club have been too cautious and that prices are high across the board. It is about biting the bullet in the right places.
But that is exactly what Newcastle are waiting for. Bids for James Maddison have been rejected, but they are still trying. Whether that is sensible in terms of what the squad needs is up for debate.
Jonjo Shelvey’s injury has forced Eddie Howe into dropping Bruno Guimaraes into a deeper, number 6 positioning, denying the influence higher up the pitch which made such a difference to Newcastle’s form in the second half of the season. But the same issues in attack remain; for all the impressive and needed additions since January, only one, Chris Wood, is a striker. His arrival was seen as something of a necessity in the winter; he isn’t somebody who can take the club on to the next level.
Perspective is needed for Newcastle, and in the main, they’ve had it. The team is in a much stronger position than this time a year ago; they are looking up, but crucially not too quickly. They will not be challenging for the title this season; it is about stabilising in the top half of the Premier League, without fear of relegation.
But at the same time, hesitancy in the market is counterintuitive. Players cost a premium, and Newcastle are finding that. Their perceived wealth is working against them. Clubs are pushing prices up for them, and considering the Financial Fair Play situation, and their desire for organic growth, patience is key. Not adding more firepower in the next couple of weeks would certainly be a missed opportunity, though.