Eddie Howe will take charge of his first Newcastle game against Brentford on Saturday (Owen Humphreys/PA)
Newcastle United’s new era begins on Saturday with a home match against Brentford and many questions still swirling around the club. It is six weeks since the Amanda Staveley-led and Saudi Arabian-backed takeover was rubber-stamped by the Premier League but the feeling at St James’ Park is that the future starts now with Eddie Howe’s first game in charge.
The 43-year-old was not first choice for the job but he impressed the new owners in his interview and has made an impact after arriving in Tyneside. Howe has increased the intensity of training and applied a more analytical approach to management of the team. Today Newcastle fans will begin to find out whether his performance matches his presentation. The pressure is on. “He’ll be feeling the burn at three o’clock,” a source inside the club said.
For all the activity around the Gallowgate since the takeover, the air of chaos that accompanied the Mike Ashley regime remains. Staveley had a clear plan for taking control but a number of the elements in this blueprint have not been put into action. Newcastle failed to entice Unai Emery away from Villarreal and the searches for a chief executive and director of football have not advanced as far as expected.
The three-strand ownership model – Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund hold 80 per cent of the shares with Staveley and Jamie Reuben controlling 10 per cent each – was always going to complicate matters. Communications between Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the chairman, Staveley and Reuben have been smooth but none of the Newcastle decision-makers have a long pedigree in the game. The search for a manager illustrated this, with different parties throwing suggestions into the mix. Howe was not on Staveley’s initial list.
The need for a football-savvy chief executive is pressing. With such a figure in place, more pertinent questions might have been asked of the managerial candidates.
Eddie Howe is the new Newcastle manager (Owen Humphreys/PA)
Howe is far from the sort of boss that the consortium originally envisioned. Rafa Benitez was the original choice, but that prospect ended when the 61-year-old took over at Everton. Emery was considered to be a similar type to Benitez – a good organiser with a history of winning trophies – but Howe is not even close to that template.
There are challenges all over the pitch for the new manager but shoring up the defence must be a priority. Only Norwich City have leaked more goals than Newcastle and the back line is both porous and shambolic.
The squad have been working much harder in training than under Steve Bruce. Almost every manager taking over a new club suggests that the levels of fitness are not good enough. In this case Howe is correct. Newcastle’s inability to press coherently was a function of their need for better preparation.
They also have to learn to keep the ball. The team’s reliance on counter-attacks has not worked. Allowing the opposition possession merely invites pressure. It will be a test of Howe’s ability whether his side can begin to exert some control over the tempo of the game, something Newcastle rarely achieved under the Bruce regime.
In an effort to generate up some positivity, Howe has been talking up the prospects of players like Jonjo Shelvey and Joelinton. If the former Bournemouth manager can get regular production from Shelvey he will be a miracle worker. The 29-year-old shows the occasional flash of brilliance but is more prone to explosions of indiscipline. The praise may well be a forlorn effort to drum up some demand for Shelvey when the transfer window opens in January.
Joelinton is the club’s most expensive signing at £40 m. That record will soon be broken but the Saudis will have to use their money more economically. The Brazilian’s tally of six goals in 79 Premier League games does not inspire confidence, although Howe has more chance of revitalising Joelinton than Shelvey.
The new owners have made a slow start at St James’ Park. Howe cannot afford any sluggishness off the line. Something needs to change quickly at Newcastle or patience will wear thin in the stands and the boardroom.
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