When Kevin Keegan became Newcastle manager in 1992 his first act was to fumigate the training ground. Now the new consortium set to take over from Mike Ashley is confronted by the demand for reform in virtually every sphere of the club. These should be their seven priorities …
Make a decision about the manager
Despite some sizeable bets predicting Max Allegri, the former Juventus manager, is Tyneside bound, sources close to the takeover say there will be no knee-jerk decisions. It seems Steve Bruce’s job is safe for now, even if he knows Rafael Benítez remains the unmentioned pretender. Amanda Staveley’s camp is close to Newcastle’s former manager and although it could cost almost £20m to extract the Spaniard – still adored on Tyneside – from his current posting in China that fee will reduce with every passing month.
Given the difficult context, Bruce has done a decent job this season and deserves respect and a chance to confound the doubters. Even so, the new owner will wonder if he possesses the necessary pulling power to fulfil their European ambitions by luring leading players to St James’ Park.
Rebuild the squad
The flawed policy of investing significantly only in players aged under 25 deemed to possess high potential resale value has led to an imbalanced squad low on experience in vital areas, particularly attack. Scouting and recruitment needs a thorough overhaul and the impending appointment of a director of football – someone is apparently earmarked for the role – should start addressing this. Removing the entire complement of scouts from furlough – which has left them unable to study video analysis of transfer targets – would be a start.
Bruce’s squad is refreshingly committed but limited and requires infusions of quality if it is ever to be weaned off the cagey, counterattacking default mode that has virtually secured Premier League safety but hardly thrills spectators. Newcastle’s healthy balance sheet should dictate that, providing player investment is shrewd, financial fairplay rules should not pose insurmountable recruitment barriers. More immediately, there is the pressing matter of what to do with players whose contracts end on 30 June. These include the highly rated 20-year-old local midfielder Matty Longstaff – the subject of considerable interest in Italy and Germany – the quietly influential full-back Javier Manquillo and the injury-prone Andy Carroll. Then there is the future of three loanees, Danny Rose, Nabil Bentaleb and Valentino Lazaro, to consider.
Reconnect with fans and strengthen communication
Thirteen years of Mike Ashley’s stewardship have left supporters disconnected and disenfranchised. The need to restore and reinforce the ties that bind represents an urgent priority. Through no fault of the club’s media team – they have, after all, being working for an autocratic owner – “no comment” has become the club’s soundtrack in recent years. Little is ever truly transparent in football but in Newcastle’s case increased openness is not only possible but required. Proper re-engagement with fans’ groups, local politicians and businesses is also needed in a city dominated by the footballing citadel perched on Gallowgate. Sources suggest the consortium plans to help fund urban regeneration and such projects would certainly win hearts and minds. Ditto, welcoming former heroes frozen out by the Ashley regime, most notably Keegan and Alan Shearer. Chris Mort, the lawyer acting for Staveley, served briefly as Newcastle’s chairman under Ashley; he can certainly advise the consortium what not to do.
Boost commercial revenues
When Ashley took charge in 2007, Newcastle’s commercial (non-broadcasting) revenue was on a par with Tottenham’s and only marginally behind Arsenal’s and Liverpool’s. Although the club has recorded an overall operating profit in seven of the past eight seasons, current income from commercial ventures – sponsorships, merchandising, overseas marketing – is almost identical to that commanded 13 years ago. This stasis is highlighted by the most recent set of accounts. These show Newcastle generated £26.7m in this sphere, around £80m a year less than Spurs. If revenue streams are to start flowing freely once more ambition must be reignited and the commercial taps turned back on as the club’s global profile is restored.
Create a new infrastructure
Although St James’ Park requires a little updating, it remains among England’s finest stadiums. Unfortunately, Newcastle’s cramped and old training ground is a different story. It has slipped well below Premier League standard and in the north-east alone League One Sunderland and Championship Middlesbrough possess infinitely superior weekday HQs. Might old plans originally proposed by Sir John Hall to transform the derelict Woolsington Hall and its extensive grounds near the City’s airport into a training ground/new academy/luxury hotel complex be dusted down and revived? Whatever happens, appreciable investment, and new ideas, will need to be directed towards an academy arguably punching well beneath its potential weight.
It would help if Newcastle had a proper executive structure. At present they are in the rare position of operating without a board, with Lee Charnley, the managing director, the club’s sole listed director.
The extraordinary lack of debate and delegation characterising the Ashley era has to end but the many excellent, and dedicated, staff found in every corner of the club, and its charity foundation, must be cherished. Individuals such as George Ramshaw, the seventy-something assistant kitman, are part of a precious fabric and symbolise Newcastle’s enduring heart and soul. They should all be de-furloughed.
Invest in the women’s team
Becky Langley’s team reside in the fourth tier but a WSL top-flight place alongside Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City et al has to be the ultimate ambition.
Win a first trophy since the Fairs Cup in 1969
… And along the way revive memories of the exciting football played by Keegan’s entertainers and Sir Bobby Robson’s blue chip brigade.