We’re all guilty of writing Newcastle United off several times last season. There was a time in March and April when the Magpies’ form seemed to be so bad that relegation was inevitable. Most supporters wanted Steve Bruce fired, and several journalists – including our own – agreed with them. In the end, Newcastle lived to fight another day. A late run of three wins in six games saw the team finish a misleading 12th in the table – a position that masks their earlier struggles. In truth, it’s hard to know how and why they stayed up. The loan signing of Joe Willock played a big part, as did the return to fitness of the talismanic Alain Saint-Maximim. The fact that the three teams who were relegated were so uniformly awful helped a lot, too.
Even with another season of Premier League football secured, there are still reasons to be worried for Newcastle United fans. They’re being told yet again that the long-awaited takeover that will see the departure of Mike Ashley is on the brink of going through. Fans spent the entirety of last summer waiting for that, and it never happened. Joe Willock has returned to Arsenal after his impressive loan spell, and Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta has suggested he now plans to use the talented midfielder in the first team next season. There are even suggestions that Arteta would like to take Saint-Maximim to London, but his estimated £50m asking price is putting him off the idea. Saint-Maximim is likely to remain at St. James’ Park for at least another season – but he’s going to need better support next season than he did for the majority of the one just gone if the club is to steer clear of danger again.
What we have at Newcastle at the moment is a cart and horse situation. It doesn’t make sense for Bruce, Ashley, or anyone else at the club to start making changes to the first team squad right now if a takeover could happen next week, and they could all be out of the job. Even if Bruce were to keep his job, it doesn’t make sense to spend a modest amount of transfer cash on averagely good players now if there’s the chance to spend big money on top-class players next month. There’s a rebuilding operation that desperately needs to be carried out at St. James’ Park, but without a solid timeline for the proposed takeover, that operation can’t begin. The club is, for the second summer in a row, paralysed. If the impasse stretches on beyond the end of June, it’s likely to be just as devastating for the club’s summer transfer prospects as it has been in the past. That would inevitably mean another difficult-to-watch season.
While the club is yet to make a summer signing, it has started releasing players. Henri Saivet, whose Newcastle career was a miserable failure from start to finish, is gone. Christian Atsu has also been released – a decision that doesn’t make a great deal of sense unless Bruce knows something that we don’t about incoming players. Andy Carroll has officially been released. That’s sad, but it was also inevitable. Every Newcastle United fan hoped that Carroll still had something in the tank when he rejoined his boyhood club on a free transfer two seasons ago, but it quickly became apparent that time and injuries had taken away the tools that once made him one of the Premier League’s most potent goal threats. He’ll almost certainly now retire. A further seven players are also now off the books, opening up gaping holes in the squad with no immediate prospect of patching them.
There are very few rumours circulating about potential Newcastle transfer activity at the moment. Those which we have heard aren’t exactly inspiring. Josh King, recently released by Everton after a goalless and uninspiring short stay, has been touted as a direct replacement for Carroll. Young Arsenal defender William Saliba, who spent last season on loan at Nice in France, is apparently on the radar too. Saliba is only twenty years old and hasn’t made a single Premier League appearance for Arsenal during his three-year stay. We’ve also seen a few sources mention Ross Barkley. The former Everton and Chelsea midfielder started his season on loan with Aston Villa in sparkling form but quickly faded. A lack of consistency at Everton, Chelsea, and Aston Villa is the reason the obviously-gifted Barkley has failed to hit the heights that were once predicted for him, and another inconsistent performer is the last thing Newcastle need. They need proven, dependable Premier League performers – and there don’t appear to be any on the horizon.
Nobody is suggesting that Bruce or Ashley should blindly start throwing money about, and Ashley wouldn’t do that even if he could. Regardless of what fans think of him, he didn’t become as rich as he is by making bad business decisions. He appreciates that the football transfer market is like online slots. Back a winner, and you’ll get more out of it than you put in. Make a bad bet, and your stake is lost. If we’re talking about the type of online slots that are played at Rose Slots CA, though, your lost stake is only likely to be a few pounds. In football terms, the potential losses run into the millions. Nobody in their right mind would spend ten million pounds playing online slots, and Ashley isn’t likely to spend that kind of cash on a player without getting the impression it’s a shrewd investment. He’s even less likely to spend it if he’s convinced that his long, troubled association with the club is soon coming to an end.
Inactivity isn’t an option over the summer for Newcastle United, but activity doesn’t appear to be an option at the moment either. The best thing for everybody would be for this protracted takeover saga to come to a decisive end one way or another within the next seven days. If that doesn’t happen, Ashley might find that he has to open his chequebook lest the club gets relegated and loses half of its value next season. Recent history has taught us to be pessimistic. Let’s