JEDDAH: Newcastle head coach Eddie Howe has been impressed with United’s first-class welcome to Saudi Arabia.
The Magpies are three days into a six-day warm weather training camp in the Middle East as they prepare for their next Premier League outing against manager-less Everton on Feb. 8.
And Howe admits that he has been left impressed with the Kingdom and its facilities, even if a little less so with the climate.
Speaking from the club’s Jeddah training facility, Howe said: “It has been good. It has been hot, which is great when you’re not training. When you’re training, the humidity is tough for the players.
“We have finished a good day, and got what we wanted out of the session. Spirits are high — obviously boosted by the last result.”
While Howe was keen to stress that the visit would be a working trip for his Magpies first-team squad, it has definitely not been a case of all work, no play, in Saudi so far.
Discussing the facilities and his side’s schedule, Howe said: “It is very good. The pitches are of a good standard. We have used the gym regularly since we have been here. We have everything we need.
“We have done a couple of team-building activities as well — really pleased so far. There are some days to go and plenty of work still to do.”
Howe, who greeted local youngsters sharing the club’s Al-Ittihad training facility base, added: “The people have been great and the hotel has been first class. We have been treated well.
“It was nice there (after training) to share a moment with the kids and to see what they are doing with developing their youngsters,” he said. “It has been mutually beneficial from both sides — our side and theirs.”
On Friday evening, Howe’s Magpies take on Saudi Pro League leaders Al-Ittihad at the Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal Stadium in Jeddah.
The game itself will be behind closed doors, with no fans in attendance and no livestream or footage of the match available.
Howe thinks the game is of definite value for his squad, although he hopes they come out of the challenge unscathed.
“I think a game is a good thing for us,” said Howe. “When you don’t have a game for a while, I think the damage can be, or the doubt can be that you don’t get a feel for the pitch dimensions. We will be back with the correct match distances, which will be good.”
“The most important thing for us is to not get any injuries from the game. Touch wood it goes well and we will be back at 100 percent.”
On the injury front, Howe has revealed that the three players who succumbed to knocks during the 1-0 win at Leeds United last weekend are yet to train with the first-team squad in the Kingdom.
Skipper Jamaal Lascelles, record signing Joelinton and left-back Paul Dummett were all taken off at Elland Road by Howe.
“The three players who came off haven’t trained. We didn’t expect them to immediately,” said the head coach. “I am not sure of the extent of the injuries. It may be that we need scans to determine that — and we haven’t had the luxury of doing that yet.”
One player who is getting closer to availability is Argentine defender Federico Fernandez.
The center-half, widely regarded as United’s best defender, has not played since mid-December, with a thigh issue.
“He is edging closer to returning to the group,” said Howe. “He is not quite there and it is at a delicate stage with him.”
“We want him back but we don’t want to push him and have a setback. We need to manage the next bit right,” he added.
In Howe’s absence from the UK, the club have been busy working their way through a transfer wanted list, with four new players still being targeted before Monday’s 11 p.m. (GMT) transfer deadline.
A move for Brazilian midfielder Bruno Guimaraes is most advanced currently, although United’s transfer deal-makers — Amanda Staveley and Steve Nickson — do have a number of irons in the fire heading towards the final few days of the window.
Howe has set his sights on adding at least “a couple” of new players to his relegation-threatened squad.
He said: “There is a lot of hard work being done back in England. I think I have no news to tell anyone at the moment, but I am being kept regularly updated. My finger is on the pulse with what is happening.
“As we know, it is a tough window, but we just hope we can get a couple more additions to boost the squad.”