4 big talking points ahead of 2022 WTA Finals in Texas

Special 4 big talking points ahead of 2022 WTA Finals in Texas
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Tunisian star Ons Jabeur practices at the WTA Finals tennis tournament in Fort Worth, Texas, on Oct. 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)
Special 4 big talking points ahead of 2022 WTA Finals in Texas
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Maria Sakkari of Greece practices on center court prior to the 2022 WTA Finals, part of the Hologic WTA Tour, at Dickies Arena on October 29, 2022 in Fort Worth, Texas. (AFP)
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Updated 30 October 2022

4 big talking points ahead of 2022 WTA Finals in Texas

4 big talking points ahead of 2022 WTA Finals in Texas
  • World No. 1 Iga Swiatek headlines the field that includes Ons Jabeur, Jessica Pegula, Coco Gauff, Maria Sakkari, Caroline Garcia, Aryna Sabalenka and Daria Kasatkina
  • Tunisian Ons Jabeur will write yet another chapter to her name in the history books as she becomes the first Arab or North African player to qualify for the season-closing championships

The 2022 WTA Finals kick off on Monday in Fort Worth, Texas, where the top eight women will battle it out for one last time this season.

Back in the US for the first time since 2005, the season-ending championships will take place at the impressive Dickies Arena from Oct. 31 to Nov. 7.

World No. 1 Iga Swiatek headlines the field that includes Ons Jabeur, Jessica Pegula, Coco Gauff, Maria Sakkari, Caroline Garcia, Aryna Sabalenka and Daria Kasatkina.

Here’s a look at the main talking points heading into the WTA’s season finale.

Historic debut for Jabeur

One of four WTA Finals debutantes in the singles draw in Fort Worth, Tunisian Ons Jabeur will write yet another chapter to her name in the history books as she becomes the first Arab or North African player to qualify for the season-closing championships.

The 28-year-old fell just short of making it to the WTA Finals last year, but a strong 2022 campaign that saw her win a maiden WTA 1000 crown in Madrid and reach two Grand Slam finals at Wimbledon and the US Open helped her secure her place in this prestigious competition.

“It just proves that this year was amazing. Just being part of the eight players that qualified here is something that I always wanted. I started wanting it two years ago, but it happened this year. Definitely proves I belong with the best players in the world,” Jabeur told reporters in Fort Worth on Saturday.

Seeded No. 2, Jabeur landed in the Nancy Richey Group alongside Pegula, Sabalenka and Sakkari. She owns a combined 6-5 win-loss record against her group rivals and arrives at the tournament feeling fresh, having not played a match since her quarter-final exit in Monastir over three weeks ago.

She commences her WTA Finals campaign against Belarusian No. 7 seed Sabalenka on Monday.

“It’s not the best to start playing against Aryna with all the balls coming very fast,” said Jabeur ahead of her opener.

“We practiced together yesterday. So it’s going to be a great match. It’s going to be tough. Whoever is going to be more solid on the court is going to win. Definitely I have my own tactic, and I will try my best to overcome her power.”

Swiatek the outright favorite

During the draw ceremony, Kasatkina, Garcia and Gauff all giggled when they realized they had landed in the same group as the ever-dominant Swiatek.

The Polish world No. 1 is 7-0 against Gauff and Kasatkina this season alone and is 1-1 head-to-head overall against Garcia.

Swiatek has clinched eight titles in 2022, including Roland Garros and the US Open, and enters the WTA Finals having won 14 of her last 15 matches.

This is her second consecutive WTA Finals appearance, and she can take confidence from her 24-1 record on US soil this season.

“WTA Finals is a challenge, but she’s a challenge just by herself. She lost very few matches,” Garcia said of Swiatek.

The 21-year-old Swiatek begins her journey in Fort Worth against Kasatkina on Tuesday.

Pegula, Gauff carry home hopes

The first two American women to be ranked simultaneously in the top four since Serena and Venus Williams in 2010, Pegula and Gauff are making their first WTA Finals appearance and have also qualified together in doubles.

Pegula is fresh off the biggest title triumph of her career having lifted the trophy in the WTA 1000 event in Guadalajara last week, while Gauff reached a maiden Grand Slam final earlier this year at Roland Garros.

The 28-year-old Pegula started the year ranked No. 18 in the world and is now up to a career-high No. 3.

“I don’t think I started the year thinking about making WTA Finals, but I think as the year went on and it became more of a goal, it was something I’m more proud of now that I was able to accomplish,” she said.

“So, yeah, it’s a huge honor. I think we’re just all really excited to be here. I think it’s more of a reward for our really great season.”

Teen phenomenon Gauff is the youngest player to qualify for the WTA Finals since Maria Sharapova in 2005. The 18-year-old Floridian is also the youngest American to make it to the championships since Lindsay Davenport in 1994.

While these are impressive stats, they are not ones Gauff spends too much time focusing on.

“I don’t really pay attention to it. Not that I’m not grateful. Obviously I’m really grateful. When it comes to these statistics and stats about my age, I guess…I mean, it’s cool, but I feel like it’s my life, so I don’t look at it as amazing or outstanding as other people look at it,” she explained.

“I’ve gotten asked that a lot about different things in my age. But it is always crazy to me when I find somebody brings up a stat or something about my age, and I feel like almost every tournament is a new thing. It’s going to be somebody else’s turn soon,” she added with a laugh.

Prize money still not where it was

Three years ago, Ashleigh Barty claimed the highest paycheck in tennis history when she scooped $4.42 million for winning the WTA Finals title with a perfect record in the round-robin stage in Shenzhen.

The women’s tour had landed a historic 10-year deal with Shenzhen to stage the WTA Finals there from 2019 onwards, with the prize money committed to the event set at an unprecedented $14 million.

After the inaugural staging of the tournament in Shenzhen in 2019, COVID-19 struck, followed by the Peng Shuai controversy, and the WTA tour has not returned to China since.

Last year, the WTA Finals were hosted in Guadalajara, and this year they found a home in Fort Worth, albeit with a significantly smaller prize purse on offer.

The total prize money for singles this week is $4 million — less than what Barty won by herself in 2019 — with an undefeated champion walking away with a $1.68 million cheque.

The sport is doing everything possible to recover from a tough economic climate, but there is still a long way to go to get back to where it was financially, it seems.

Al-Ittihad fans hail possible signing of Karim Benzema

Al-Ittihad fans hail possible signing of Karim Benzema
Updated 06 June 2023

Al-Ittihad fans hail possible signing of Karim Benzema

Al-Ittihad fans hail possible signing of Karim Benzema
  • French striker leaving Real Madrid after 14 seasons
  • Announcement on deal expected ‘in coming days’

JEDDAH: The reigning champions of Saudi Arabia, Al-Ittihad, are reportedly edging ever closer to signing Karim Benzema from Real Madrid.

This comes in the wake of the Spanish club announcing on Sunday morning that the French forward is departing after 14 seasons.

The 35-year-old has been the subject of much speculation recently, with the striker expected to confirm his move in the coming days.

Benzema has reportedly received a lucrative offer from Al-Ittihad. He could become the latest major star to play in Saudi Arabia after his ex-teammate Cristiano Ronaldo joined Al-Nassr.

Reports started circulating after Benzema also confirmed on Sunday he would leave the Bernabeu this summer. There was also a report that Al-Ittihad’s president and vice president traveled to Madrid on Saturday morning, on a mission to sign the player.

Many Al-Ittihad supporters are hoping that the Saudi champions can get this deal sealed over the next few days.

Hamza Al-Sayed, a sports columnist, told Arab News that Benzema would be a coup for the Kingdom. “Benzema has been crucial for Real Madrid in their quest for Champions League glory in recent years, and now he is considered to be one of the legendary players (to have) played for Real Madrid.”

Al-Sayed said that if Benzema joins Al-Ittihad, it would be a move to one of the oldest football clubs in Saudi Arabia that has won nine Saudi league titles and holds 48 championship wins, three of which are in Asia.

It would be “simply, a great player joining a great club,” said Al-Sayed.

Omar Abu Al-Faraj, a big supporter of Al-Ittihad, who has been a season ticketholder since the age of 14, and hardly missed a game, said he was excited at the possibility.

“I think this year is holding great moments for us as Ittihad’s fans, winning the Saudi Premier League, the Saudi Super Cup, qualified to play among top clubs at the FIFA Club World Cup, and now we are getting very close to sign the great striker Benzema. It has been really a lucky year and we are having amazing achievements,” he said.

“Having the great striker Benzema with our squad is really a great addition and we really look forward to seeing him in Al-Ittihad’s shirt.”

Many Al-Ittihad fans have taken to Twitter to express their delight at the prospect of the Ballon d’Or winner joining the team.

Sara Aziz tweeted: “@benzema all eyes on you, cant wait to see you wearing black and yellow.”

Faisal Al-Harbi, another fan, tweeted: “Welcome ‘Benzema’ to the greatest club in the Middle East.”

Fan Walid Al-Sharari tweeted: “Whatever you expect, your luck is great … Benzema left a great football club in Europe and now coming to the greatest club in Asia.”

Al-Ittihad have also been linked with Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante, whose status at the English club is uncertain. The president and vice president of Al-Ittihad reportedly traveled to London on Monday to sign Kante.

Raheem Sterling: Manchester City ‘deserve’ Champions League glory

Raheem Sterling: Manchester City ‘deserve’ Champions League glory
Updated 06 June 2023

Raheem Sterling: Manchester City ‘deserve’ Champions League glory

Raheem Sterling: Manchester City ‘deserve’ Champions League glory
  • Chelsea star says his former club has everything it takes to finally get over the line against Inter Milan on Saturday

Raheem Sterling has backed former club Manchester City to round off their impressive campaign by achieving a historic Treble.

The Etihad outfit face Inter Milan in Saturday’s Champions League final, having already tasted Premier League and FA Cup success.

Sterling spent seven years at City, winning the league four times, and lifting the FA Cup and League Cup.

But the Champions League eluded the England winger and his team, with defeat to Chelsea — his current club — in 2021 the closest they came.

Manchester United are the only other English club to have achieved the Treble, back in 1999, and Sterling told Arab News exclusively: “I hope City do it.

“They’re a club that’s been fighting for the Champions League from my time there for many years and I think they are a club that deserves it.

“The quality that they have, they have been unlucky in previous years.

They’ve got the Premier League (and FA Cup) now and hopefully they can actually get the Champions League and finish it all off.”

The 28-year-old, who scored 131 goals for City — including 24 in the Champions League — before leaving for Chelsea last summer, added: “For me, it’s been the same at this club. First season I was there until now, it’s about consistency.

“For me, they are the best team — they’ve been the best for the last five, six years.

“I knew when I was leaving City, I knew they would be challenging or winning titles. They’re a great club, they’re the example for everyone in the Premier League.”

City have been contenders for European club football’s biggest prize since 2016 when they reached the semifinals under Manuel Pellegrini, but lost 1-0 on aggregate in the semis to Real Madrid.

Heartbreak has since followed for Pep Guardiola’s team, including a 2019 quarter-final tie with Tottenham Hotspur where Sterling had a dramatic injury-time goal disallowed by VAR.

It would have proved the winner, but Spurs instead went through on away goals after a 4-4 aggregate scoreline.

In last season’s semifinals, City conceded two goals in the 90th minute as Real Madrid forced extra time and then snatched a 5-4 aggregate success.

“They have had unlucky times in the past, but now they have got the luck and that’s all they needed,” added Sterling of City’s bid for a first European Cup.

“When we lost the final two years ago, it was hard but that’s gone, it’s in the past now. Hopefully they get across the line this time. Now they’ve got the big one to come and I believe they will do it.”

6-time All-Star former Major League Baseball MVP Miguel Tejada named manager of Karachi Monarchs

6-time All-Star former Major League Baseball MVP Miguel Tejada named manager of Karachi Monarchs
Updated 06 June 2023

6-time All-Star former Major League Baseball MVP Miguel Tejada named manager of Karachi Monarchs

6-time All-Star former Major League Baseball MVP Miguel Tejada named manager of Karachi Monarchs
  • Tejada will lead Baseball United’s Pakistan franchise in partnership with fellow Dominican baseball legend Adrian Beltre

KARACHI: Baseball United, the first professional baseball league focused on the Middle East and Indian subcontinent, has announced that former Major League Baseball MVP and All-Star Miguel Tejada will become the first manager of the Karachi Monarchs.

Tejada will team up with fellow Dominican Republic baseball legend, Adrian Beltre, who was named the team’s honorary general manager last week.

The Karachi Monarchs are the first professional baseball franchise in the history of Pakistan and the second announced by Baseball United. The Monarchs will compete in Baseball United’s Dubai Showcase in November alongside the Mumbai Cobras, and two additional franchises that will be announced in the coming weeks.

The Cobras and Monarchs are expected to generate significant fanfare, building on decades of sports rivalries between India and Pakistan. The last cricket match between India and Pakistan was watched by more than 230 million people around the world.

“The leadership we are putting together around our Baseball United stacks up against any professional sports league in the world,” said Kash Shaikh, president, CEO and co-owner of Baseball United. “These are elite baseball minds and exceptional clubhouse leaders. Miguel Tejada fits that mold. He’s not only a former All-Star and one of the greatest Dominican players in history, but he’s someone who’s been through hardship, made mistakes, and recovered from them. When you have experienced the high highs and the low lows, you build a humility and resilience that enables you to succeed. I am looking forward to seeing Miguel in the dugout with Karachi across his chest.”

Tejada played 16 seasons in Major League Baseball and was the 2002 American League Most Valuable Player. He was selected to six All-Star games, winning the All-Star game MVP in 2005. Tejada, a shortstop, also won two Silver Slugger awards and amassed more than 300 career home runs. He played for six franchises, most notably the Baltimore Orioles and the Oakland Athletics.

“This opportunity means a lot,” Tejada said. “I’ve been blessed with a lot of good things in my life thanks to baseball, but I really believe this chance to lead the Karachi Monarchs will be one of the best. I truly appreciate Kash, John Miedreich and Eddie Diaz taking a chance on me, and giving me the opportunity to prove myself in this new role. I can’t wait to get on the field and start helping our players.”

Tejada and Beltre will partner with Miedreich, Baseball United executive vice president of baseball operations, and Diaz, vice president of Baseball Operations, to develop Karachi’s roster in advance of November’s Showcase. The league’s first full season will begin in late 2024.

Saudi Esports Federation and LG partner for Gamers8: The Land of Heroes

Saudi Esports Federation and LG partner for Gamers8: The Land of Heroes
Updated 06 June 2023

Saudi Esports Federation and LG partner for Gamers8: The Land of Heroes

Saudi Esports Federation and LG partner for Gamers8: The Land of Heroes
  • LG UltraGear 25GR75FG, a top IPS-based gaming monitor, will be used at event
  • World’s biggest esports festival begins on July 6 in Riyadh and runs for 8 weeks

RIYADH: The Saudi Esports Federation and electronics firm LG have signed a memorandum of understanding to use the company’s UltraGear 25GR75FG, a top In-Plane Switching-based monitor designed for esports enthusiasts, at Gamers8: The Land of Heroes, the biggest gaming festival worldwide.

The event runs for eight weeks from July 6 and the equipment will be used throughout the esports venues at Boulevard Riyadh City.

The 24.5-inch (62-centimeter) monitor enables fluid motion and considerable visual clarity.

Ahmed Albishri, deputy CEO at the SEF, said: “Gamers8: The Land of Heroes is the destination for gamers this summer and the Saudi Esports Federation is constantly seeking ways to ensure that the biggest gaming and esports festival worldwide is unrivaled in its offering.

“We are delighted to sign this MOU with LG, as this partnership encapsulates our shared vision of fostering innovation and providing the finest gaming experiences. We truly believe that players will relish using the elite equipment in action.”

LG’s Game Mode offers a range of presets tailored to specific game genres, allowing gamers to optimize settings for first-person shooter, real-time strategy and more. Additionally, the Black Stabilizer feature enhances visibility in dark scenes, providing an edge over opponents and allowing players to comfortably spot details.

There is also a customizable Game Mode and enhanced visibility through the Black Stabilizer feature. The NVIDIA G-SYNC and Reflex support provide a competitive advantage for gamers by striving to ensure that screen tearing and input lag are no longer a concern.

Ken Jeong, LG’s president, said: “We are delighted to sign this MOU with the Saudi Esports Federation for Gamers8: The Land of Heroes, and look forward immensely to playing our part in such a prestigious gaming and esports festival.

“We believe Saudi Arabia has an ever-growing gaming industry, with its potential only increasing every day. With the country’s esports industry taking large steps, including the hosting of Gamers8, we at LG take great pride in our UltraGear … being used at an esports festival of this magnitude.”

He added: “The new LG UltraGear 25GR75FG not only excels in performance — but enables gamers to experience smooth and immersive gameplay with its fast refresh rate and low response times — but also boasts sleek aesthetics.

“Its three-sided virtually borderless design and adjustable stand allow for a clean and customizable setup that complements any gaming environment. The LG UltraGear 25GR75FG allows gamers to sensationally immerse themselves in the world of gaming in an extraordinary way.”

This year’s event has a prize pool of $45 million — triple that of last year. Details of all the elite titles appearing at Gamers8 this summer will be released soon. Elite esports competitions are joined at Gamers8 by live concerts from local and international stars, as well as shows, community gaming, education platforms, and fun-filled activities for all ages.

The festival concludes with the Next World Forum, a gaming and esports gathering held at Riyadh’s Kingdom Center on Aug. 30 and 31, that brings together sector leaders and experts from around the world.

Newcastle United end-of-season awards: winners and losers from historic 2022/23 campaign

Newcastle United end-of-season awards: winners and losers from historic 2022/23 campaign
Updated 06 June 2023

Newcastle United end-of-season awards: winners and losers from historic 2022/23 campaign

Newcastle United end-of-season awards: winners and losers from historic 2022/23 campaign

NEWCASTLE: The wait for silverware goes on at St. James’ Park, but Champions League football has returned.

Having suffered the seemingly endless pain of one relegation battle after the next, this season has proven a welcome distraction for Newcastle United.

Under Eddie Howe, and with PIF at the helm, the days of feeding on scraps at the foot of the Premier League seem long gone. This very much feels like the era of progress and positivity on Tyneside.

The season that was full of highs, with the odd low along the way, but it all ended in success with a top-four finish in the bag and trips to Barcelona and Madrid in the offing, rather than fears of Preston and Barnsley.

Looking back, here’s our take on the highlights, lowlights and the standout performers across the season.

Player of the season
You know it’s been a remarkable campaign when you find it impossible to mention your 18-goal, Premier League fourth top-scorer for the season, Callum Wilson, in your top three players for the season. In fact, he might not even make the top five, such has been the competition at the top.

Honourable mentions must go to the likes of Bruno Guimaraes, Fabian Schar, Kieran Trippier and Nick Pope, who have all more than proven their value over the course of the season, but in my opinion, it is very difficult to look past the talents of last season’s official POTY, Joelinton. He’s a player who just keeps getting better and better.

Signed as a forward and used in a back-to-goal, central role on arrival, the big Brazilian looked like a fish out of water in the Premier League. It is easy to forget that it must have been hard to settle during the COVID-19 lockdown, not speaking the language, playing in a new country, new environment and being asked to perform a role that you had never played.

Those days, though, seem long gone. And while the shoots of recovery were evident in the latter days of the previous manager, Howe sprinkled some magic on the player in his opening weeks, dropping him into a deeper midfield role, with the switch paying instant dividends. From then, Joelinton has been used as a left forward or to the left side of a central midfield three, bursting forward to score goals and also provide cover to the backline with his physical, commanding style.

This season, playing largely in midfield, Joelinton had his most successful season in front of goal, netting eight — and from his deepest starting slot yet. Bigger than any Arab News player of the year gong, Joelinton received his maiden Brazil call last week, just reward for his outstanding form and growth under Howe.

Most improved player
Sean Longstaff. Always undervalued, never by Howe and his coaches, though.

In the space of a year, Longstaff transformed from a player who appeared to have lost his way under previous boss Steve Bruce and was heading for the Newcastle exit door. The North Shields native — a city suburb on the banks of the Tyne — never wanted to leave his boyhood heroes. However, his breakthrough under Rafa Benitez and big money links to Manchester United seemed a million miles away from the reality of this time last year.

And even after penning a new deal, one which saw his chronic underpayment readjusted, things in the garden weren’t exactly rosy for Longstaff, with Jonjo Shelvey ahead of him in the midfield pecking order, as well as usual suspects Joelinton, Joe Willock and Bruno Guimaraes. But a knock to Shelvey in pre-season in Portugal opened the door to the Geordie, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Makeshift left-back Dan Burn could easily make a case for unsung hero, too.

Young player of the year
Elliot Anderson had a brilliant breakthrough year, and bigger and better things are expected of the youngster next season, but this one is really a two-way shootout.

Sven Botman and Alexander Isak, both signed last summer, enjoyed sensational first seasons at the club, the latter despite a long, frustrating spell on the sidelines.

Isak, signed for a club record fee, broke on the scene with a flawless display on debut at Liverpool and looked set for great things, only for an injury, sustained while away with Sweden, to keep him out until the new year. But after his return, Isak displaced top-scorer Wilson as the club’s central striker and netted 10 goals in total himself. His most memorable contribution probably came on the blue half of Merseyside when he weaved in and out on the left to tee up Jacob Murphy. It was every bit a throwback to Thierry Henry at Arsenal. Rumour has it, Everton’s Michael Keane is still twisting and turning to this day.

Botman, on the other hand, has been Newcastle’s Mr. Consistent, a rock alongside Schar at the heart of the Magpies’ backline. And while he hasn’t put in the flashy shows like Isak, his solidity, in his debut campaign in the joint best defense in the division, means he gets the nod for me.

Underperformer for 2022/23
This one isn’t difficult. Allan Saint-Maximin. He started the campaign like a house on fire, but injury curtailed his blistering start, which saw Kyle Walker turned inside-out in a 3-3 draw with Manchester City as never seen before. It was a flash of the old Maxi. Sadly, flashes are all we get these days.

When fit — and that was rarely this season — Saint-Maximin struggled for gametime even though he showed a willingness to bend to Howe’s more disciplined tactical approach. It has never quite felt like enough, though. And even though more flashes were shown on the final day at Chelsea, you’d have to feel his time on Tyneside may well be up.

The player himself took to Instagram to post this very cryptic message on Monday. It read: “When I joined @nufc in 2019, nobody understood my choice. I always believed in this club, as soon as I step onto the pitch, the fans directly adopted me. Since then there has been highs and lows, when we were in the relegation zone, but I always believed in the team and trusted the project even if it was hard to stay in the PL, I knew that the club deserved much better and we had to prove it. I gave everything on the pitch to keep the team at the highest level. I am grateful that some people remember that.”

It continued: “I am now entering a turning point in my career and I will give everything until the end to achieve my dreams. It’s often said that human beings forget quickly, but me I won’t be able to forget everyone that love me for who I am and believe in me in difficult moments, it’s in these hard situations that we see the real supporters. Thanks to everyone for the support, whatever happens, I will always give everything when I have the chance to step onto the pitch. Thanks, God, for everything.”

It’s fair to say that message has got fans guessing.

Goal of the season
Newcastle had two contenders in the Premier League’s goal of the season competition, and both deserve a special mention.

Miguel Almiron’s cracker of a volley, which was stroked in at Fulham as it dropped over his shoulder, is up there with the best the league was graced with in the past 12 months, however, you would have to go a long way to see a better strike than the one produced by Saint-Maximin at Wolves.

The goal meant a lot, it rescued a point for Newcastle in their first real struggle of the season, but the technique in itself was worthy of winning any competition. Hit with such velocity, having dropped from so high, first time, in the 90th minute from 1-0 down, it was the pinnacle of the Frenchman’s ultimately disappointing season.

Result of the season
Spurs. It had to be: 21 minutes of unbridled mayhem, five goals and a team decimated without getting out of second gear.

This was one of the finest, most brutal, Premier League performances I’ve ever seen. Easily the most impressive period of play, in those opening exchanges, ever produced in the Premier League by a team in black and white.

Sitting in the St. James’ Park press box, we were swamped by fans falling off their seats and jumping with joy, time and time again that day. Jacob Murphy’s face told the story of the masses — no one could believe their eyes, particularly those furnished in sky blue. It was a long trip back, no doubt. Final score, Newcastle United 6, Tottenham Hotspur (Harry Kane alone) 1.

Moment of the campaign
In a campaign of many moments, for me, one stands above all. The final whistle at the end of the first leg of the Carabao Cup semifinal.

Newcastle United dominated their struggling opponents from near minute one to 90, and with just 20 minutes to go, edged themselves in front via Joelinton. The job wasn’t done yet, but still, at the halfway point, playing a side who’d go on to finish bottom of the top-flight last season, it felt the groundwork had been laid.

I was at Wembley — the old pre-development one — as a fan in 2000, the last time Newcastle played there in a cup competition. And as the whistle sounded, for the first time, a wave of realization swept over me that a return was on the cards.

That being said, the win over Brighton, which all but sealed a Champions League spot, was also up there in a close second. The outpouring of emotion that night, on and off the field, was a joy to behold.

The one big regret...
At almost any given time this season, Newcastle would have bettered Manchester United. But in front of 87,306 people on Feb. 28, they barely laid a glove on them. Sadly, for Howe and Newcastle, it was the most meaningful afternoon of the whole campaign.

Losing the Carabao Cup final was not really something alien to the club; they’ve lost final after final before. However, there was something a whole lot different this time around, yet so much remained the same.

This was not the Man United treble-chasing side of 1999, nor was it Arsene Wenger’s pre-Invincible, but near untouchable Gunners of 1998 — the last two teams to beat the Magpies in a showpiece finale. This was the fallible, very beatable Man United, one in transition, moving toward glory of old, but lacking belief that a win was an inevitability. That’s why losing it felt so painful.

The thing to take from this moment, though, and the whole season, is that these times will come again for Newcastle — but next time, they’ll be in a stronger position to grasp the opportunity — and silverware — with both hands.