View from Newcastle: On-field success and promise of successful future a year on from era-defining takeover

Special View from Newcastle: On-field success and promise of successful future a year on from era-defining takeover
There is a clear style of play, an identity about Eddie Howe’s Newcastle after years of underachievement before him. (AFP)
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Updated 07 October 2022

View from Newcastle: On-field success and promise of successful future a year on from era-defining takeover

View from Newcastle: On-field success and promise of successful future a year on from era-defining takeover
  • Backed with top-quality talent in the transfer market, Eddie Howe has transformed the team’s performances after years of underachievement under Mike Ashley’s regime
  • Next on the agenda for the owners is a revamp of the club’s facilities and development of the region

NEWCASTLE: It was said to be the takeover to end all takeovers. No deal had even come close, not even the mega-rich buyouts of Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain by Dubai and Qatar-based investors.

It was a deal that promised so much for a fanbase so willing, and a club so ripe for the picking — but has it delivered?

Here we take a look at what has actually changed in the 12 months on Tyneside since the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia takeover of Newcastle United, as seen through the eyes of fans — with hints of what’s to come through the words of PIF chief and Magpies’ chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan.

So what has changed?

So much in many ways, and yet so little in others — although the last bit must be caveated with the word pending.

This takeover, and the preamble to its being, can be divided into two very distinct categories — what the deal can bring for the football club, and what it can bring to the wider community in the northeast of England.In a football sense, Newcastle United is a club transformed.


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Long gone are the days of flirting with relegation back to the Championship, England’s second tier, a place United stooped to twice during previous owner Mike Ashley’s reign. Now, a fresh optimism that European football can return to St. James’ Park, something seen just once in more than a decade and a half.

And how has that been achieved — well, just by trying to run Newcastle like a proper, functioning Premier League football club, not the dysfunctional mess Sports Direct tycoon Ashley presided over.

Jobs and roles that were previously filled by just one person, now have teams of operatives. Key positions such as chief executive and director of football have been stocked with well-qualified personnel.

There is a real sense that from the boardroom to the dugout and on to the pitch, every person at the club is pulling in the same direction, has the same end goal — and the goal is, of course, success and silverware on Tyneside.

Manager Steve Bruce was replaced with a self-confessed workaholic and “football geek” Eddie Howe.

His fresh, modern approach to the game could not be more at odds with his ex-Manchester United predecessor’s old pals, 1990s football playbook. And it was something the players, many of those starring now were already here before the takeover, have commented on.

There is a clear style of play, an identity about Howe’s Newcastle — when has that ever been said about Newcastle in recent years?

Howe is squeezing the best out of some cast aside by Bruce, such as Fabian Schar and others, while complementing them with flashes of new-found brilliance from Bruno Guimaraes et al.

Signing the likes of Bruno has been one of the biggest changes, too. The summer of 2021 was one of pain and frustration as United failed to capitalize on a decent end to the 2020-21 campaign under Bruce, by signing just one player permanently, Joe Willock. And he was a player who was already at the club on loan.

Since that window, about £200 million has been splashed out on various rising stars from across the Continent. United broke their transfer record to sign Alexander Isak, who was very much on Man City’s radar, I’m told, had any hiccups occurred in the deal to sign Erling Haaland last summer.

The small but important details have not been overlooked either. The need to improve the training ground, so often a source of embarrassment, even for United managers, has already been addressed, with much more to be completed during the winter break for Qatar World Cup, during which United are expected to spend some time in Saudi. A new facility, on the boundaries between leafy Gosforth and Brutalist 1960s new town Killingworth, is in the pipeline.

Club legend Alan Shearer has been honored, not once but twice. That was unthinkable under Ashley, who had sacked the former England captain. His statue moved back on to club land and the bar formerly of his name, returned to its former glory, one befitting of a player who netted 206 goals for the football club.

Care and attention after years of neglect has not gone unnoticed by the receptive Geordie public, who now fill out the ground again, only years after Ashley was forced to give away 10,000 free season tickets in order to keep attendances high.

And that brings me on to the second part of this — what has the deal done for the region.

Well, beyond training ground hints, the answer, at this stage, is very little.

That, however, is definitely set to change. Investment is afoot, it’s understood, with the owners’ plans likely to see cash and potentially jobs flood to the region.

For now, though, that side of the deal is yet to really come to fruition, hence the idea of pending.

The fans’ view “Imagine what this will look like in two years’ time?”

Newcastle has always been famous the world over for the undying, unwavering love of its fans. And 12 months to the day since tens of thousands of them flocked to St. James’ Park, their cathedral on the hill, to mark the passing of the Ashley regime and the rebirth of the sleeping giant on the Tyne, they remain at the very heart of the club’s success moving forward.

“The last year has demonstrated what every Newcastle United fan knew all along. We knew that with the right owners the football club and the city would take off,” said Alex Hurst, of NUFC fanzine True Faith.

“We knew that the club would once again become integral in the lives of millions of people.

“After years of the club being talked down and mocked, the rest of the league and wider football media has had to come to terms with their beloved six becoming seven. Newcastle United have dominated two transfer windows and beaten much of the Premier League since the takeover, despite years of neglect and an almost non existent infrastructure away from the pitch. Imagine what all of this will look like in two years’ time?

“This was supposed to be the hardest part for owners, fans and footballers. Everything has gone to plan so far. Everything.  This twelve months has been special but I think everyone in football is aware, they’ve seen nothing yet.”

As his words detail, Hurst is unequivocal in his view that this deal has had an inherently positive impact on what it means to be associated with Newcastle United.

That’s a view echoed by YouTuber and NUFC Matters podcast host, Steve Wraith.

“When I stood at Molineux in October 2021 in the rain watching another abject display from Steve Bruce’s beleaguered Newcastle team, never could I have imagined that we would be in the position that we now find ourselves in,” he said.

“The takeover of our club by PIF and partners was something our supporters had craved throughout 14 years of misery under Mike Ashley’s ownership.

“In the last 12 months we have retained our premier league status with a hungry new manager in Eddie Howe and made shrewd signings such as Kieran Trippier, Dan Burn, Bruno Guimaraes and a club record signing in Alexander Isak.

“More importantly the new owners have given the supporters hope and with that hope have reunited the fanbase.

“A club disunited for over a decade can once again proudly call itself Newcastle United.”

The future — what next for Newcastle United?

We will leave this to the man who basically holds the keys to the kingdom, the man co-owner Mehrdad Ghodoussi called “boss” on Twitter on Thursday evening, Al-Rumayyan. Often seen as a bright, smiley face in the directors box at SJP and sometimes with a black and white flag in his hand, Al-Rumayyan and PIF, have been welcomed into the club by the people of the region with open arms.

After 15 years of a financial tyrant, resistance was never expected to be encountered — one of the reasons it was such an investable project.

So many predicted the club would be run like PSG or City. So far, it hasn’t. This isn’t about Galactico signings, more medium to long-term deals, improvement from the grassroots up. Every deal must have value for money. Too many sporting ‘projects’ have poured cash down the drain, not under Al-Rumayyan and PIF’s watch.

So why Newcastle and why the Premier League?

“So football is part of the 13 sectors that PIF are interested in. Football is certainly one of the most important sports, whether here or globally, it’s the number one sport,” said Al-Rumayyan.

“Why the EPL? Why the English League? Because it’s currently the greatest league in the world. It has no challengers.

“There are 20 teams, three that will suffer relegation, and three that will be promoted from the second tier. What distinguishes the English league is that any of the 20 teams could beat even the strongest team. The level of competition is extremely high.”

Bang for the buck was, and always is, the main consideration for PIF when investing in any project. NUFC is no different.

Al-Rumayyan explains: “When we looked at it, we considered the financial aspect.

“By the way, it wasn’t the first ‘offer’ that came our way from a club. We looked at clubs in Italy, in France, in Britain. So for example, in Britain, a club approached us to own 30 percent without having any say in its running.”

That is understood to be Manchester United.

He continues: “For £700 million sterling. But we bought Newcastle, 100 percent ownership was offered to us. But the party that brought us the opportunity, Amanda Staveley and her husband, said ‘we like it so much, we’d like to be with you’. Then the Reuben family, who are one of the biggest property developers, said ‘we’d like to come with you’. They were one of the leading developers in Newcastle, and I said excellent, let them join. So now they have skin in the game.

“We bought the club for a total of £350 million sterling compared to the 70 million for only 30 percent, or the 3.5 billion for Chelsea.

“So my potential is to go from 350 million to at least 3.5 billion, that’s 10 times the money. If I’d bought Chelsea, how high could the value go? 4 billion? 5 billion? So it’s pure investment, that’s the first thing.

“Number two, Newcastle is one of few one-club cities. Most cities have several clubs. The whole of Newcastle is behind you, 950,000 people, and more than 1 million in the wider region, are all fans. We have about 52,000 seats at the stadium, all sold out.”

And is there potential for wider investment in the northeast of England?

“When you look at it from every angle, there is potential. The chief strategists for international investments are looking at the property and infrastructure developments that we will be involved in in that area,” said Al-Rumayyan.

“So the potential in terms of investment is huge, and at the same time it gives us a platform going forward for sports investment.”

What of the club’s on-field ambitions? Al-Rumayyan addressed that very subject in a club statement released to fans on the eve of the one-year deal anniversary.

And what’s certain is, PIF is aiming BIG. They’re not here to take part, they’re here to take over.

“We told you that we wanted to build, over time, a consistently successful team. And we told you that we were focused on long-term success,” he stated.

“There is still a long way to go, but each season is a building block toward our objective – to challenge for trophies both domestically and in Europe. The Club we are building is made up of people who understand our long-term vision, and who understand the patience and persistence that it will take to achieve those goals.”

While that rhetoric will get the juices flowing for Newcastle fans, it feels like only the opening stanza of a wonderful, PIF-orchestrated symphony on Tyneside.

Ask any United fan and they’d tell you they’d be happy with one trophy in their lifetime, bearing in mind the club has not won a major domestic honor since 1955. Just one? That’s the bare minimum for those at the top of the football club — and Newcastle and its fans are all for it.


Denmark coach says ‘emotions high’ for must-win World Cup clash

Denmark coach says ‘emotions high’ for must-win World Cup clash
Denmark's coach Kasper Hjulmand speaks during a press conference at the Qatar National Convention Center (QNCC) in Doha. AFP
Updated 9 sec ago

Denmark coach says ‘emotions high’ for must-win World Cup clash

Denmark coach says ‘emotions high’ for must-win World Cup clash
  • “It is a World Cup so emotions are very, very high and football is wonderful — with football you can multiply your feelings by 10, the fear of losing is (also) very, very much involved," said Denmark coach

DOHA: Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand admitted on Tuesday that “emotions are very, very high” for their must-win World Cup clash against a dogged Australia.
With holders France already qualified for the last 16 from Group D, Australia are in pole position to join them in the knockout rounds with three points from two games.
Going into the final round of Group D games on Wednesday, Denmark are third and Tunisia fourth, both with one point.
Euro 2020 semifinalists Denmark must beat Australia and hope Tunisia do not do likewise against France if they are to extend their stay in Qatar.
Hjulmand said “everyone is ready” and he has no fitness concerns, but he conceded the pressure is on for a team who had been expected prior to the tournament to progress along with France.
“It is a World Cup so emotions are very, very high and football is wonderful — with football you can multiply your feelings by 10, the fear of losing is (also) very, very much involved.
“How can we best handle that? These considerations you have to make.”
Denmark were held 0-0 by Tunisia in their opener and then lost 2-1 to a Kylian-Mbappe inspired France to leave them in deep trouble.
Hjulmand knows that the pressure is on, but he backed his players to handle it.
“Of course there is pressure,” said the 50-year-old.
“(But) these players are very, very used to big games and the more experience you have of these kinds of events, from maybe feeling the pressure, you feel pride.
“It is a dream since you were a kid and now you are actually in a position where you can go out and play football for something.
“It is privilege.”


Olympic skate star helps launch Mideast’s largest park in Sharjah

Olympic skate star helps launch Mideast’s largest park in Sharjah
Updated 29 November 2022

Olympic skate star helps launch Mideast’s largest park in Sharjah

Olympic skate star helps launch Mideast’s largest park in Sharjah
  • Final phase of facility at megaproject Aljada was designed by Australia’s Keegan Palmer, the sport’s first-ever gold medalist

SHARJAH: Aljada Skate Park, the largest facility of its kind in the Middle East, has opened in Sharjah.

Located in the Madar family entertainment district of the Aljada community, the facility was opened by Australia’s Keegan Palmer, the skateboarding Olympic gold medalist, who designed its third phase.

Launched by developers Arada and spread over a 90,000 square foot (8,361 square meter) area, Aljada Skate Park contains sections for every level, from beginner to professional.

The pro-level phase of the facility contains design elements inspired by famous skate parks from around the world, including Bondi Beach and Salt Lake City, where Palmer has competed. This includes a large vert wall that can also be found at the Ariake Urban Sports Park in Tokyo, where he won the gold medal in 2021.

“This is not only the largest but also the most challenging and creative skate park anywhere in the region,” said Palmer. “Aljada Skate Park is now a focal point for the growing skate community here in the UAE, and I’m very excited about the future plans that we have for this amazing facility.”

Ahmed Alkhoshaibi, group CEO of Arada, said: “Our strategy has always been to deliver world-class facilities to inspire residents and visitors to our communities, and Aljada Skate Park is no exception. We’re delighted to support this rapidly growing sport here in the UAE and will shortly be sharing our plans to put Sharjah on the map as a global destination for professional skateboarding.”

Among those who joined Palmer and Alkhoshaibi at the park’s launch on Nov. 26 were Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal, vice chairman of Arada, and Sabatino Aracu, president of World Skate, the global governing body.

Over the course of the weekend, skaters from across the UAE and beyond heard Keegan talk about his Olympic and Aljada journeys, as well as the chance to learn tricks at special clinics. In addition, another of the world’s top skaters, Pedro Barros, who won silver at Tokyo in 2021, also impressed the crowd with his skills.

On Saturday, skaters were able to show their skills and compete to win prizes during the Skate & Chill event hosted by California shoe brand Vans. The organizers gave away prizes for the best tricks performed over six sections of Aljada Skate Park, with visitors also treated to a festival atmosphere along with giveaways, a DJ, food and the opportunity to customize the brand’s shoes.

Special guests from the Gabriel Can Foundation, which aims to teach children diagnosed with autism to skate, were given a warm welcome with an hour-long event designed for them.

Spread over a 24 million square foot (2.2 million square meter) area and with 25,000 homes, Aljada is Sharjah’s largest-ever project. Since opening in early 2020, the Madar at Aljada entertainment district has welcomed over three million visitors.

The first phase of Madar contains the Aljada Discovery Center, the Zad food truck district, a free-to-enter drive-in cinema, a children’s adventure playground, an indoor events space, and an outdoor amphitheater. Scheduled to open next year, the second phase of Madar will contain a Wellfit gym — Sharjah’s largest fitness space — and a BOUNCE trampoline park.


Chelsea draws trip to Manchester City in FA Cup third round

Chelsea draws trip to Manchester City in FA Cup third round
Updated 29 November 2022

Chelsea draws trip to Manchester City in FA Cup third round

Chelsea draws trip to Manchester City in FA Cup third round
  • Chelsea will head to Manchester when the big guns enter the competition over the weekend of Jan. 6-9

LONDON: To reach a fourth consecutive FA Cup final, Chelsea will have to go through Manchester City in the third round.
Chelsea will head to Manchester when the big guns enter the competition over the weekend of Jan. 6-9.
The Blues have made it to Wembley in each of the last three years, but have ultimately gone down to Arsenal, Leicester and Liverpool respectively.
Liverpool, which beat Chelsea on penalties last season to lift the trophy for the eighth time, launches its defense at Anfield against English Premier League struggler Wolverhampton.
Erik ten Hag will get his first taste of world football’s oldest club competition when Manchester United hosts Everton. West Ham makes the short trip to Brentford, and Southampton travels to Crystal Palace.
Premier League leader Arsenal and high-flying Newcastle drew away games at League One sides Oxford and Sheffield Wednesday.
Tottenham hosts League One’s Portsmouth, and Brighton travels to Middlesbrough in FA Cup winner Michael Carrick’s first taste of the competition as Boro boss. Championship rivals Cardiff host Leeds, and Burnley go to Bournemouth.
Nottingham Forest and Fulham both face second-tier opposition on the road in the shape of Blackpool and Hull respectively.
Aston Villa welcome fourth-tier Stevenage, and Leicester face either fifth-tier Dagenham & Redbridge or League Two’s Gillingham.


New look for Formula E season 9 as Gen3 era set to begin

New look for Formula E season 9 as Gen3 era set to begin
Updated 29 November 2022

New look for Formula E season 9 as Gen3 era set to begin

New look for Formula E season 9 as Gen3 era set to begin
  • World’s best electric race car arrives for pre-season testing in Valencia next month
  • India, South Africa and Brazil to host races for the first time, as Maserati and McLaren debut in Mexico City on Jan. 14

LONDON: Formula E has unveiled a fresh new look ahead of season nine of the ABB FIA World Championship, with the debut of the Gen3 car accompanied by new races, cities, teams and sporting formats.

The Gen3 — the fastest, lightest, most powerful and efficient electric race car ever built — will make its competitive debut in round one in Mexico City on Jan. 14, following pre-season testing next month in Valencia.

The championship will continue with three new cities hosting Formula E races for the first time: Hyderabad, India (round four on Feb. 11); Cape Town, South Africa (round five on Feb. 25) and Sao Paulo, Brazil (round six on March 25).

McLaren and Maserati are new to the Formula E grid next season. They will join some of the biggest names in motorsport including Jaguar, Porsche and Nissan among the 11 teams and 22 drivers competing for world titles.

Sporting regulation updates include a return to racing over laps; rookie drivers taking a seat for teams in FP1 sessions; and a plan to introduce a 30-second 4 kilowatt-hours “Attack Charge” boost at select races, made possible through the development of the most advanced EV battery in the world today.


Swiss loss sets up enticing rematch with Serbia 

Swiss loss sets up enticing rematch with Serbia 
Updated 29 November 2022

Swiss loss sets up enticing rematch with Serbia 

Swiss loss sets up enticing rematch with Serbia 
  • Group G game between Switzerland and Serbia has been one to keep an eye on
  • It's not just because of the talented players on both teams, but because of the political tensions they brought on the field

DOHA: Switzerland’s loss made their upcoming World Cup rematch all the more enticing, and with a lot more on the line.

Ever since the match schedule was made in April, the Group G game between Switzerland and Serbia has been one to keep an eye on. Not just because of the talented players on both teams, but because of the political tensions they brought on the field when they met at the last World Cup.

Four years ago in Russia, Switzerland captain Granit Xhaka celebrated his goal against Serbia by making a double-headed eagle with his hands — thumbs representing the heads of the two eagles, fingers fanned to look like feathers. The figure is considered to be an Albanian nationalist symbol.

Xherdan Shaqiri added another goal in the final minute of the game, and did the same thing with his hands as the Swiss won 2-1 in the second of the three group matches.

Xhaka and Shaqiri both have ethnic Albanian heritage and family ties to Kosovo. They were teenagers growing up in Switzerland when Kosovo declared independence from Serbia, something the Serbs still don’t recognize 14 years later.

Both players were fined by FIFA during the tournament, and the government of Albania opened a bank account for people to contribute toward paying the 10,000 Swiss franc ($10,500) penalties.

On Friday, only one of the two teams will be able to advance to the round of 16 in Qatar. Brazil, who beat the Swiss 1-0 on Monday and defeated Serbia 2-0 last Thursday, have already assured themselves of a spot in the knockout round.

The Swiss likely need only a draw at Stadium 974, and Shaqiri should be available to play after sitting out the match against Brazil with a muscle injury.

Xhaka, now 30 and a mature leader for his country, brushed aside the controversial match from four years ago.

“(There’s) nothing in the history behind these two games,” the Arsenal midfielder said. “We are Switzerland, they are Serbia, that’s it. We are here to play football — them, us as well.”

Still, the Serbian delegation at this year’s World Cup has already made the politics of Kosovo an issue.

Serbia’s locker room ahead of their opening game against Brazil displayed a national flag with territory that included Kosovo and the slogan “No Surrender.” FIFA opened a disciplinary case against the Serbian soccer federation on Saturday.

The Kosovo Soccer Federation formally complained to FIFA after a photograph circulated and the country’s sports minister, Hajjrulla Ceku, described the image as using the World Cup to promote “hateful, xenophobic and genocidal messages.”

The Swiss advanced to the round of 16 in 2018 after a draw with Costa Rica in their final group match, while the Serbs were eliminated after losing to Brazil. This time, the teams go head-to-head in their final group game.

“Of course, the history is the history,” said Switzerland goalkeeper Yann Sommer, who also played against Serbia four years ago in Kaliningrad. “But in this moment it will be the game that is important.

“We know this game already,” Sommer added. “We had it in Russia.”