Plenty of Premier League clubs have arrived at January in similar peril — the Magpies are two points from safety having won one match — but none of those teams have ever been under the control of the world’s richest owners.
We have heard close to nothing from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund since they acquired an 80 per cent stake in the club in October. Now, however, it is time to put their money where their mouth isn’t.
Newcastle United are two points from safety but enter the transfer window under the control of the world’s richest owners
They won’t be signing the players — the Saudis currently have little input in the daily running of the club — but they will be required to sign off on the cheques.
Rather, transfer business is being led by co-owner Amanda Staveley, head coach Eddie Howe and recruitment chief Steve Nickson. Also Nick Hammond, the former director of football operations at Celtic, has been brought in to help Staveley navigate the intricacies of the football world.
There has been no discussion over budget — primarily because they do not know how many of their targets are willing to join a relegation fight.
Co-owner Amanda Staveley (right), head coach Eddie Howe (centre) and recruitment chief Steve Nickson will lead the the transfer business
Sven Botman, for example, is the Holland Under 21 international at the top of their list when it comes to centre backs, the position of greatest need. He, though, let it be known in the summer that he would only leave Lille for Champions League football.
The 20-year-old’s stance, we are told, has changed in light of Newcastle’s interest and a £30 million deal is being discussed with the French club.
Botman would be a marquee signing and a signal of intent not only for this season, as would England’s Kieran Trippier. The Atletico Madrid right back has let it be known he wants to sign for Howe, who took him to Burnley nearly 10 years ago. He is seen as the type of leader the team need and, potentially, a future captain.
Lille centre back Sven Botman (left) tops the Magpies wish list of defenders
The latest on his proposed move earlier this week was that the numbers involved still needed some negotiation, although that is now thought to be heading in the right direction. This could yet be a recurring theme.
For while Newcastle’s pockets are deep, Staveley does not want to be seen as a loose and long-armed custodian. She and her husband, Mehrdad Ghodoussi, have a management contract to run the club while the Saudis remain in the shadows of Riyadh.
Given that Staveley’s reputation has been built on brokering deals — not least the one that brought the Saudis to Tyneside — she wants value and kudos from the terms she arranges. But therein lies the paradox of the world’s richest club.
Staveley and her husband, Mehrdad Ghodoussi (right), have a management contract to run the club
Newcastle’s greatest strength this month should be their financial muscle. For while Covid presents many obstacles, there are also opportunities. On one hand, for instance, clubs want to keep players for fear of the virus leaving them thin on numbers.
On the other, the economic uncertainty of a pandemic leaves the majority vulnerable to financial temptation. That is where Newcastle must take advantage. Staveley may have to accept the odd defeat when it comes to fees, wages and clauses but the greater victory is survival.
If all goes according to plan, they aim to have at least six new players come the end of January.
The focus is defence — and for obvious reasons given they have conceded 80 goals in 2021, the most in Premier League history across a calendar year.
They are, it is said, going all out for Botman, for there are reservations over James Tarkowski, not least because Burnley will demand a huge fee despite his contract expiring this summer.
Burnley will demand a huge fee for James Tarkowski (right) despite his contract expiring this summer
Bournemouth’s Lloyd Kelly is a Howe recommendation, while Joe Rodon, of Spurs, is a loan option.
Injuries are also causing a rethink in attack, where Howe had wanted to sign a young back-up to Callum Wilson. But the likelihood of their top goalscorer missing the next six weeks with a torn calf muscle could lead to more significant and urgent investment. Basle’s Brazilian striker Arthur Cabral is a name that has been mentioned.
But so have many others, and that has been one cause of the long hours Staveley and Nickson have put in during recent weeks, especially when being offered a host of players from cash-hungry clubs like Juventus.
Howe was consulted on a couple of those — Aaron Ramsey among them — but his priorities are elsewhere. He is also mindful of disrupting the wage structure.
Welshman Aaron Ramsey (left) is among the players Howe has been consulted on
Closer to home, Newcastle have Sean Longstaff out of contract in the summer, as well as midfielder Joe White, the highly-rated 19-year-old elevated to the first team in recent weeks.
With Staveley occupied elsewhere and no chief executive in place, there is a fear among some that such negotiations are being allowed to drift. It is a big job, running a football club.
But this next month is the biggest of them all for Staveley, who has ridden a wave of euphoria and goodwill since October. She will now be judged on what happens during the next 31 days.
So, too, will her somewhat silent partners. The Saudis may not talk much but money does. It is time for Newcastle’s owners to prove their ambition.
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