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Newcastle United transfer news leaves fans in uncharted water

Every summer at Newcastle United, the world caves in. Without fail, at the end of each season and before the start of the next, something always goes wrong. The bells of the crisis alarm sound like clockwork in June and July.

Fundamentally, this is because Newcastle United are not run like a football club which harbours ambitions to strive for better. Their owner of 13 years, Mike Ashley, has made a conscious effort to negate the potential for greatness and instead utilise Newcastle’s standing as a Premier League institution on the worldwide stage to freely and unashamedly promote his chain of sportswear shops.

Ceasing to function in an appropriate manner and instead becoming little more than a promotional tool for another business is enough to drive any football fan away; Newcastle have some of the most passionate supporters in England, their club dominates the discourse in their city like St James’ Park dominates the skyline. The mood among them has been so low for so long; they feel beaten into submission.

Ashley’s refusal to push Newcastle forward has usually been characterised by a lack of proper investment in the first team squad or the sale of a key player without an adequate replacement. Those he does wave through the door are often cheap alternatives to better targets, or young and inexperienced and unproven talents from overseas who could offer great resale value, but come with a long list of risks and caveats. That is the simplistic view, though. In reality, the depth of mutual contempt between supporters and owner is much more complex. There simply isn’t the time to truly examine the full picture.

The departure of Rafael Benitez as manager in the summer of 2019 felt like the culmination of the bitter feeling. He was a beacon of hope for those feeling lost, proof of what was possible were Newcastle United to ever be freed from their shackles and gain a positive to focus on in a sea of neglect and poisonous ignorance in the boardroom. His departure, and Steve Bruce’s arrival, led to a flurry of bets, and one bookmaker even paying out, on Newcastle to relegated from the Premier League, not to mention angry protests.

It wasn’t pretty, at times it was nothing short of lucky. Newcastle maintained their status under Bruce. Perception and evidence have combined to create an unpopularity or, in the kindest terms, a scepticism of the current boss among supporters. But he got the team over the line last season.

The annual panic occurred a little later this year and for the first time it wasn’t Ashley’s fault. It was the worst case Newcastle have faced, too.

They had been in line for a lucrative and controversial takeover by a consortium which was 80% backed by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund. After weeks and weeks of silence from the Premier League while ratifying the deal, their main concerns centring on who would be running things day-to-day and the ongoing piracy issues, led to the group pulling the bid. Newcastle United had stopped functioning at all in anticipation of a new era.

Ashley has put the club on the market three times during his reign but, for a long time, the mistrust of him was such that few actually believed he was a willing seller. Even conclusive proof of that fact that wasn’t enough to get him out the door.

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Newcastle were back to square one; no hope, no direction and no discernible action being taken. Relegation fears sparked again; Ashley had never been that interested in getting involved but, having signed a deal and taken a non-refundable deposit, he was more emotionally absent than ever. The contingency plan was originally a £60million transfer budget; the ongoing coronavirus pandemic slashed that budget to around £35million.

Successive pre-season defeats to strugglers from the Championship, including a 5-1 hammering at Middlesbrough’s training ground, magnified the problem and increased the volume of the disillusioned voices.

Within a week, though, there has been the most remarkable turnaround. Newcastle have signed three players with Premier League experience who can and will improve the club immediately on the pitch. Two of those, Ryan Fraser, a free transfer after leaving Bournemouth, and Jamal Lewis, a £15million arrival from Norwich City, fit the age profile of a traditional signing as they are under 26.

The surprise was Callum Wilson, costing £20million from Bournemouth despite suffering two serious knee injuries and turning 29 next February. It was unusual for Newcastle to sanction that deal, just as it was for them to react as quickly as they have to get them in ahead of Saturday’s season opener at West Ham. But he offers much more certainty in front of goal, chiefly the worry last season.

During the Cherries’ relegation campaign, he scored eight times and by his own admission failed to perform. That total was still six more than Joelinton, the non-striker leading the line for Newcastle United and the embodiment of the previous transfer strategy, despite his price being half as much.

Bruce has managed to do something nobody else, including Benitez, has: change Ashley’s policy. Perhaps he has been helped, rather than hindered, by the current owner’s now unwavering desire to walk away. He no longer has any interest in seeing resale value in players because that means still not having left in at least a year. It has always been in his interests for Newcastle to avoid relegation so his £300million asking price remains realistic; the only option was to propel the team into an obviously competitive state very quickly. No gambles this time, going against the very fibre of Ashley’s being.

There are still hopes of a central defender arrival and another striker, albeit those are likely to be on loan and offset by departures. The fact that Newcastle have done things properly all of a sudden has calmed a lot of the concerns. Everybody wanted, and still wants, the takeover, but at the very least, there is a feeling that life can go on without it for now.

Whilst anybody painting Newcastle United’s business as anything progressive rather than born out of necessity is way off the mark, supporters are in unchartered waters. Yet, the fact there are now murmurings of this being their greatest Ashley-era transfer window speaks volumes of both the work they’ve done and how low the bar on Tyneside truly is.

 


 

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