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.

Brazil beat South Korea 4-1 to reach World Cup quarter-finals

Brazil beat South Korea 4-1 to reach World Cup quarter-finals
Updated 6 sec ago

Brazil beat South Korea 4-1 to reach World Cup quarter-finals

Brazil beat South Korea 4-1 to reach World Cup quarter-finals
DOHA: Brazil beat South Korea 4-1 to reach World Cup quarter-finals.

Croatia beat Japan on penalties to reach World Cup quarter-finals

Croatia beat Japan on penalties to reach World Cup quarter-finals
Updated 05 December 2022

Croatia beat Japan on penalties to reach World Cup quarter-finals

Croatia beat Japan on penalties to reach World Cup quarter-finals
  • Mario Pasalic struck the winning penalty after Dominik Livakovic had saved three of four Japanese penalties as Croatia won the shoot-out 3-1
  • Ivan Perisic had pulled Croatia level in the 55th minute of normal time following Daizen Maeda’s opener for Japan just before the break

DOHA: Croatia reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup on Monday with a dramatic 3-1 penalty shoot-out win over Japan after a tense last-16 clash ended 1-1.

Mario Pasalic struck the winning penalty to send Croatia through after Dominik Livakovic had saved three of four Japanese penalties.

Ivan Perisic had pulled Croatia level in the 55th minute of normal time following Daizen Maeda’s opener for Japan just before the break.
Croatia now face either Brazil or South Korea in the last eight and continued midfield icon Luka Modric’s stay at his fourth and likely final World Cup.
Japan’s bid to reach the last eight for the first time in their history came to a crushing end after another display of the sort which saw off Spain and Germany on their way to topping Group E.
However they could not claim one more big European scalp in the shape of the 2018 finalists and go home in the second round, as they did four years ago, after having three of their penalties saved.
Japan could easily have been ahead within three minutes when Shogo Taniguchi glanced a header wide from point-blank range, and 10 minutes later Daizen Maeda came close to turning in Junya Ito’s brilliantly placed low ball from the right flank.
In the meantime Perisic had let off a shot from a tight angle which led to a goalmouth scramble, but had Croatia scored they risked the goal being ruled out for what looked like a clear push on Takehiro Tomiyasu.
Bruno Petkovic then wasted a great opportunity in the 25th minute, strolling through almost unopposed onto a long through ball only to dawdle and fail to get a pass off to Andrej Kramaric who was charging into the box.
Kramaric was then too slow to latch on to Perisic’s dangerous flick-on and from there Japan took control, and the lead.
Daichi Kamada had already blasted over after a superb passing move when in the 43rd minute Maeda fired in the opener after Ritsu Doan’s cross was knocked down by Maya Yoshida.
Japan looked the better team and ready to inflict more damage but out of the blue Croatia’s most dangerous player Perisic levelled the scores with a bullet header from Dejan Lovren’s deep cross.
Almost immediately afterwards Wataru Endo responded by having a good strike tipped over the bar by Dominik Livakovic, before Shuichi Gonda pulled off the save of the match to keep out Modric’s beautifully-struck, dripping shot.
Modric was replaced nine minutes into the first half of extra-time in which Japan had the best chance, Kaoru Mitoma’s effort well tipped away by Livakovic.
With penalties drawing close, one final chance fell to Modric’s replacement Lovro Majer, who dragged his shot wide, but his team prevailed in the shoot-out to end the Blue Samurai’s entertaining adventure.

Enrique set Spain players ‘homework’ of 1,000 penalties ahead of World Cup

Enrique set Spain players ‘homework’ of 1,000 penalties ahead of World Cup
Spain's coach Luis Enrique attends a press conference at the Qatar National Convention Center (QNCC) in Doha. AFP
Updated 05 December 2022

Enrique set Spain players ‘homework’ of 1,000 penalties ahead of World Cup

Enrique set Spain players ‘homework’ of 1,000 penalties ahead of World Cup
  • “Over a year ago, in one of the Spain camps, I told them they had to get here with at least 1,000 penalties taken,” Enrique said on Monday

DOHA: Spain coach Luis Enrique set each of his players the “homework” of practicing 1,000 penalties ahead of the World Cup, saying he is convinced they are not a lottery.
The 2010 world champions face Morocco in the last 16 on Tuesday, with the threat of extra-time and penalties looming in the knockout phase of the tournament in Qatar.
Spain beat Switzerland on penalties at last year’s Euro 2020 but were eliminated on spot-kicks by Italy in the semifinals.
“Over a year ago, in one of the Spain camps, I told them they had to get here with at least 1,000 penalties taken,” Enrique said on Monday.
“I imagine that they have done their homework. If you wait until getting here to practice penalties... (it won’t be enough).
The Spaniard insisted spot kicks were “not a lottery.”
“It’s a moment of maximum tension, a time to show your nerve, and that you can shoot the penalty in the way you have decided, if you have trained it a thousand times,” he said.
“It says a lot about each player. It’s trainable, manageable, how you manage the tension. It’s increasingly less luck — the goalkeepers have more influence.
“We have a very good goalkeeper, any of the three can do very well in this situation. Every time we finish training I see a lot of players taking penalties.”
The Spain coach also responded to criticism over the team’s style of play — their commitment to playing out from defense sometimes puts them under pressure in dangerous areas.
Japan earned a shock 2-1 win over Spain, with their first goal coming after the European team lost the ball on the edge of their box and Ritsu Doan slammed home.
“Every team has their weapons,” said Enrique. “We want to get the ball in the best way possible to the forward,“ 
“If we have to hit a long ball, we’ll hit it. The interpretation has to be done on the pitch.”
He said he did not agree with Spain’s critics.
“It doesn’t make sense to say that against Japan if we hoofed it away to clear our lines we wouldn’t have let in the first goal,” he said.
“We also wouldn’t have scored any goals if we kept kicking it long. We will keep playing the ball out from the back, it’s what we want.”
Enrique confirmed that Cesar Azpilicueta had recovered from his knock against Japan and all 26 players would be fit to train on Monday evening ahead of the game.

Morocco out to make history in crunch World Cup game with Spain

Morocco out to make history in crunch World Cup game with Spain
Updated 05 December 2022

Morocco out to make history in crunch World Cup game with Spain

Morocco out to make history in crunch World Cup game with Spain
  • The Atlas Lions reached last-16 stage in 1986, but progress to the quarter-finals this year will lift them, and Arab football, to new levels

DOHA: Morocco face Spain on Tuesday with a place in the World Cup quarterfinals at stake.

It is surely the biggest game in the country’s history and perhaps the biggest game ever played by an Arab nation. A knockout game against a football superpower on the global stage — this is what dreams are made of. 

There is also no reason to have nightmares. After all, Morocco topped their group with seven points, more than any other Arab nation has ever collected.

This is also a team that has conceded just one goal in seven games under coach Walid Regragui. Even that was an unfortunate own goal in Thursday’s 2-1 victory over Canada.

This is a team that started with a solid draw against Croatia and then deservedly beat Belgium 2-0. Spain thrashed Costa Rica 7-0 but then were held to a draw by Germany and were defeated 2-1 by Japan to finish second.

The Europeans remain favorites but they created little for all their possession against Japan. There is no reason for Morocco to fear Spain. They have already shown they can live with, and beat, some of the best that Europe has to offer.

Morocco are now a force to be reckoned with. They have been here before, winning the group back in 1986 and then losing 1-0 to West Germany, when Lothar Mattheus grabbed the only goal of a hard-fought encounter in Mexico with just two minutes remaining. 

Going one round further this time around would give the present crop of players immortal status.

If they were to make it, a quarterfinal against either Portugal or Switzerland would really get the excitement flowing in North Africa.

They already have the quality. Captain Romain Saiss and Nayef Aguerd have been excellent in the center of the backline. Goalkeeper Yassine Bounou is as solid as they come. The likes of Hakim Ziyech of Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain’s Achraf Hakimi, and Nasser Mazraoui of Bayern Munich, play at the highest club level week in, week out and have started to show their class in this World Cup. 

It is such stars who will need to be at their best against the 2010 champions. A World Cup knockout game will not faze them and they are able to help Morocco get forward quickly and to devastating effect.

Soon, some of their national team mates will be joining them in the UEFA Champions League. Liverpool are reportedly interested in midfielder Sofyan Amrabat who has been one of the standout players of the tournament so far. His current club Fiorentina are big but a move to the elite is on the cards.

Youssef En-Nesyri has also impressed. The Sevilla striker will know the Spanish national team very well. He may also be in line for a move elsewhere in 2023, and there have already been reports of interest from West Ham United.

“We are determined to continue the dream in Qatar with the same will, determination, and perseverance,” the 25-year-old said. “Our focus will be on ourselves, our abilities, and the possibility of presenting a level worthy of the Moroccan national team in order to continue the adventure with success.” 

There is also coach Regragui. The 47-year-old has been in charge for just over three months, succeeding Vahid Halilhodzic. As well as bringing tactical discipline, he has been praised for his motivational skills and bringing together a squad that had looked disunited at times under the former boss. 

It was striking that after the win over Canada sealed top spot, Regragui refused his players’ attempts to throw him in the air before eventually relenting. The message is very much that it is a case of so far, so good but there is still work to do.

While the destination is still unknown, everyone is enjoying the journey. 

“I never dreamed of achieving something for my country,” said Hakimi. “Playing with Morocco is something amazing. To do something big for your country is better than with the club. 

“I am here to help all the Moroccan people. When I was young I saw the last generation that came to the World Cup and I dreamed of being like them.”

It remains to be seen what happens on the pitch but it is clear that Morocco’s fans will win the contest in the stands. They have been one of the loudest, most passionate and numerous groups of supporters at the World Cup. 

Such was the demand for the Spain game that FIFA released an extra 5,000 tickets. There will be ‘home’ advantage and a fantastic atmosphere.

That’s the way it should be. The locals will be supporting them too. At the 2010 World Cup, much of Africa got behind Ghana when the Black Stars were the only team left in the tournament. Now, Morocco are representing the Arab world and history awaits.

Neymar close to World Cup return, England and France set up last-eight showdown

Neymar close to World Cup return, England and France set up last-eight showdown
Brazil's forward Neymar reacts at the end of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group G football match between Cameroon and Brazil. AFP
Updated 05 December 2022

Neymar close to World Cup return, England and France set up last-eight showdown

Neymar close to World Cup return, England and France set up last-eight showdown
  • Superstar forward Neymar has been absent for Brazil since spraining his ankle in his team’s opening Group G win against Serbia last month and their supporters have been sweating on his fitness ever since

DOHA: Neymar could make his return to the World Cup stage on Monday as Brazil continue their bid to be crowned kings for a record-extending sixth time against South Korea.
Superstar forward Neymar has been absent for Brazil since spraining his ankle in his team’s opening Group G win against Serbia last month and their supporters have been sweating on his fitness ever since.
Coach Tite said Neymar would be assessed in Brazil’s final pre-game training session on Sunday, but gave a heavy hint that the Paris Saint-Germain attacker would start.
“He’s going to train this afternoon and if he’s OK, he will play tomorrow,” Tite told reporters.
His return would be a big boost as Brazil have scored just once since Neymar fell foul to his ankle injury and on Saturday lost Arsenal forward Gabriel Jesus for the rest of the World Cup.
South Korea famously reached the semifinals 20 years ago when the tournament was shared between their country and Japan, who are also in action on Monday against Croatia.
The Koreans have not reached the knockout stages since 2010 and only got to the last 16 in Qatar thanks to an injury-time winner from Hwang Hee-chan in their final group game against Portugal.
They will need a different performance to the one in June’s friendly between the two teams, when Brazil romped to a 5-1 victory with Neymar scoring two penalties.
“We have good memories of 2002, of making it to the last four and we want to relive that,” said Korea midfielder Kim Jin-su, who was 10 years old at that time.
“We’ve waited so long to come to this knockout stage and we all truly wanted to come this far.”
Japan veteran Yuto Nagatomo said his side will again show the world their samurai spirit in their clash with unbeaten Croatia, after having already stunned Germany and Spain on their way to topping Group E.
“Before battle, the samurai would polish their weapons and refine their technique, but if they were scared in battle, all that would count for nothing,” the former Inter Milan left-back said Sunday.
“The most important thing is to have courage.”

- Mbappe shines, England cruise -

Kylian Mbappe was the star of the show again for France with a superb brace which sunk Poland 3-1 and gave the world champions a mouthwatering last-eight showdown with England, easy 3-0 winners over Senegal.
Paris Saint-Germain superstar Mbappe rifled home two blistering second-half strikes after his veteran striker partner Olivier Giroud became France’s all-time leading scorer with his 52nd goal for his country just before half-time.
Mbappe called the World Cup his “obsession” after his match-winning performance, which took his tally to a tournament-leading five and also included an assist for Giroud’s record-breaking opener.
“The only objective for me is to win the World Cup,” said the 23-year-old.
“That is what I am dreaming of. I didn’t come here to win the Golden Ball (for best player). That is not why I am here. I am here to win and help the French national team.”
France will face England on Saturday at the Al Bayt Stadium, where Gareth Southgate’s team strolled past Senegal in a performance full of positives, not least the form of teen sensation Jude Bellingham.
Bellingham, 19, set up Jordan Henderson’s opener and the Borussia Dortmund midfielder was involved again when England captain Kane bagged his first goal in this World Cup and overtook Gary Lineker as England’s all-time top scorer in major tournaments.
Bukayo Saka dinked home England’s third in the 57th minute to secure a comfortable win and set up a huge tie with one of the pre-tournament favorites.
“We’ll enjoy this one but then our focus turns to that, it’s going to be a really tough game,” said captain Kane. “They are reigning champions but it’s a good battle.”