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Who Newcastle sell this summer will be important

Perhaps now, after two games without a win, it is worth noting that Newcastle United are ahead of schedule. This, their first full season under new ownership, was billed as one of consolidation. Whatever happens, it has been much more than that.

Eddie Howe, Newcastle’s manager, who is summed up by his unerring focus and a steadfast ability to see the perspective, said it was important to avoid a relegation battle. It may seem a long time ago, but when Howe arrived at St James’ Park in November 2022, replacing the ever unpopular and uninspiring Steve Bruce, relegation to the Championship was more than likely. It took until December, against Burnley, for the first win of the season after 14 games. Nobody had survived from such a position, and now they sit third, with three games remaining, having lost just five times in the league.

That position has forced a re-evaluation of all expectations. Newcastle have been in the top four for the majority of the season, but defeat at home to Arsenal last week, and a draw at relegation threatened Leeds on Saturday have set nerves jangling, especially with both Manchester United and, particularly Liverpool, closing in on them. It is only natural to be disappointed if they don’t make the Champions League from this position; but that perspective Howe often brings is required. With three games remaining, two at St James’ Park where they’ve only been beaten twice, they need six points. Everything is in their hands.

Fifth is the lowest Newcastle can finish now, too. The Europa League would still represent immense progress, even if it wouldn’t feel like it. An incredibly exciting summer transfer window is in the offing; targets, and to some extent, outlay is dependent on what happens in these next couple of weeks. Financial Fair Play will have to be taken into consideration, and the extra revenue from Champions League qualification will be valuable.

Player sales have a huge part to play. This is one area where Newcastle have been lacking when it comes to generating their own income. Plenty have players have departed since Mike Ashley sold the club, but part of his legacy is that their age and lack of quality means there has been no huge money recouped; free transfers, loans and nominal fees have been all too common. The lack of investment he put into the club had a positive in one sense; Newcastle have been able to spend a lot without causing any FFP concerns under the current owners. But with no sponsors or money from player sales, room for manoeuvre is getting smaller.

So while there will be plenty of excitement over rumoured incomings, but the outgoings will be just as defining. They will also be more complex, because looking at the squad, there aren’t many players who Newcastle could sell for big money without losing something more valuable.

Sven Botman, Alexander Isak and Bruno Guimaraes looked like three players who might just outgrow the club faster than they could develop, so there is no way they will be allowed to leave after such a successful season. Then there are players like Joelinton and Joe Willock, vital already with age on their side and time to improve further. Miguel Almiron, who has scored 11 Premier League goals this season, still divides opinion among sections of the fanbase, but has signed a new contract so is unlikely to leave.

Callum Wilson and Kieran Trippier may be well over 30, but their quality, consistency and leadership mean they are absolutely crucial to the future. Martin Dubravka is a goalkeeper who may leave, and still has plenty to offer at the top level, but nothing has yet been decided with his future.

Even though money has to come through the door, the options for a worthwhile sale aren’t plentiful.

Allan Saint-Maximin appears to be the one obvious candidate. With his contract running to 2026, the time for maximising value may be now, and because of his quality on the ball, ability to dribble past anybody and offer something different, there would certainly be plenty of offers. Regular football has been hard to come by for the Frenchman under Howe, for a variety of reasons. There is no willingness to see the back of him within the club and he remains a club favourite, but it is undeniable that he doesn’t suit Howe’s intense and particularly structured approach in attack. Almiron, Jacob Murphy and Anthony Gordon are certainly more suited to the way Newcastle currently look to play going forward.

Yet, that may be the reason to keep him. He brings the x-factor, and there have been criticisms of Howe’s lack of willingness of a plan b when facing adversity this season. Saint-Maximin can be the difference in any game; that is a quality that is hard to find in a player.

Nothing is set in stone at Newcastle because their season is still in flux. But an inability to create income will become more problematic as time goes on. The exit door may be the most intriguing to watch ahead of next season, which will definitely be in Europe.

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