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With his beloved club seemingly on the verge of a lucrative takeover, Newcastle United fan and writer Kevin Christie outlines five points which should be high on the new owners’ agenda…
1. Hire a top class coach
Despite the fact that Steve Bruce has done a creditable job in trying circumstances, his journeyman CV and meagre managerial record mean that it is not being particularly unkind to the affable Geordie to suggest that Newcastle’s first significant change must be in the dugout if they are keen to progress and close the gap on the Top 6.
Everton pulled off a coup in luring serial winner Carlo Ancelotti to Merseyside recently and hiring someone of a similar pedigree will surely be top priority for the new owners. Rafa Benítez’s triumphant return would be a heart-warming narrative that would appeal to Tyneside romantics but despite his affection for the club, the Spaniard may not be afforded the opportunity to make a comeback.
The odds on Max Allegri coming to Tyneside were recently slashed, as reported by Sporting Life. But with Mauricio Pochettino also currently out of work, it would surely be remiss of the club’s new owners not to at least sound him out before making an appointment as he not only has a fine pedigree and a wealth of Premier League experience but also has the charm and force of personality required to lead the club forward.
2. Sign a No.9
While numerous players have worn Newcastle’s fabled #9 shirt in the 14 long years since Alan Shearer’s retirement, none have done so with any great level of conviction or to any great success. Sadly, the famous shirt weighs all-too-heavy on the shoulders of its current incumbent, Joelinton, who has been in pitiful form in recent months and has netted just one league goal since his record-breaking move from Hoffenheim last summer.
Steve Bruce has tried to take the heat off the Brazilian frontman by suggesting that he isn’t a natural goalscorer…but this just begs the question of why he was even signed in the first place, especially when Rafa Benítez wasn’t keen on him and Salomón Rondón, who led the line so successfully last season, was keen to make his temporary move to Tyneside a permanent one.
There is not a club in world football who are not on the lookout for a prolific striker, but Newcastle are in urgent need of a talismanic frontman to pick up where Shearer left off and write his name into Geordie folklore by firing them to long-overdue success.
3. Remove Sports Direct logos
It’s remarkable to look at photographs of St James’ Park from the pre-Ashley days and witness the tasteful simplicity and understated elegance of the club name sitting proudly above the centre circle on the East Stand.
That the iconic sign is now flanked and overshadowed by tacky Sports Direct logos tells the sad story of exactly what has gone on at the club in the 13 years since Mike Ashley arrived on Tyneside. Innumerable logos for Ashley’s infamous sports shop dominate the stadium and have done for years – scandalously, entirely free-of-charge for the vast majority of that time. The club has become a cheap and pathetic extension of Sports Direct and its proud heritage has been mocked and undermined.
With the winds of change blowing in off the Tyne, there could be no greater symbol of transformation than that much-reviled signage finally coming down and being discarded to the annals of time.
4. Jobs for the Old Boys
One of the most baffling things about Mike Ashley’s reign was how he aimed to discredit and alienate many of the club’s most celebrated and successful servants. The fallout from Kevin Keegan’s ill-fated return resulted in messy court proceedings, while record goal scorer Alan Shearer was frozen out of plans to re-build the club and lead the promotion charge after their first relegation to the Championship back in 2009.
Club legend Shay Given left under a cloud following 11 and a half years of stellar service during Joe Kinnear’s spell in charge, while Argentine winger Jonas Gutierrez was unceremoniously dumped in summer 2015 after making a remarkable return from his battle against testicular cancer, which led him to bring the club to tribunal for disability discrimination and, subsequently, win the case.
Bringing some of these stalwarts (or others like Les Ferdinand, Nobby Solano or Rob Lee) back to the club in some capacity would be a positive PR move for the new owners and would create a feelgood factor around the club, creating a sense that it was finally in the hands of loving custodians with a real affinity for the club and with its best interests at heart.
5. Investment in club facilities
At the end of November 2013, Newcastle announced major refurbishment plans for a “stunning new state-of-the-art training complex as part of a multi-million pound redevelopment of the Club’s existing 35-acre training ground site”. Work was to begin in May 2015 and be completed early the following year.
Fast forward to summer 2019 and with photos of the club’s laughable facilities (inflatable paddling pools and wheelie bins filled with ice) emerging online in the intervening years, the recently-departed Rafa Benítez commented: “when I came to Newcastle, they gave me the plans for the new training ground. I was talking to the architect about changing a few things. And, after three years, they painted the walls”.
All of this would suggest that the club’s training facilities are in dire need of major investment to make them fit for purpose – something that the new owners are surely aware of and likely to prioritise. This, of course, will then serve to strengthen the club’s appeal to prospective new signings at both youth and first team level and will help create a sense of pride in a much-loved institution that has sadly been left to decay under Mike Ashley’s neglectful stewardship.
While it may not be an immediate priority, another point to note is that in a city as football-mad as Newcastle, where more than 50,000 spectators regularly flocked to St James’ Park during the club’s most recent stint in The Championship, possible expansion and re-development of the stadium won’t be far from the thoughts of the new owners.
Although Ashley recently sold land at Strawberry Place (behind the Gallowgate End of St James’ Park) to developers who have since been given planning permission to build flats, offices and a hotel on the site, it will be interesting to see just what happens to that project and, if it does indeed go ahead, whether the new owners have any viable contingency plans that might still allow them to increase the capacity of St James’ Park if they deem it necessary at some stage in the future.