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Newcastle United

Newcastle United round-up: Benitez’s contract; Merino comments on future; Woodman update

Jake Jackman




Newcastle United are enduring a period of uncertainty after the transfer window, with the future of Rafa Benitez being a chief concern for the supporters. The Magpies’ boss is believed to be upset with the board after they broke promises regarding the club’s recruitment this summer. The Mail report that he would have to pay £5 million to quit the club and that he is likely to remain for now. He feels a responsibility to the players that did join the club and doesn’t want to leave them.

There is something not right at Newcastle and Benitez has seen the true colours of the board during the recent transfer window. The Spaniard is an honourable man and it is difficult to see him walking out in the near future, especially with the £5 million release clause in place. However, the relationship between him and the board looks to be beyond repair. It would be a surprise if he is still manager in 12 months’ time.

One player that did arrive during the summer was Mikel Merino. The Spanish midfielder has already made a good impression and looks to be a great pick-up in an inflated transfer market. His future is an issue for concern after a strong start to his Newcastle career and he discussed the terms of his loan deal with the Chronicle:

“Well, it’s a loan with a buyout option for Newcastle. We’ll see how the season progresses and how it all goes. At the moment, what I am thinking is to improve and grow individually as a footballer, because I still have a lot of room to grow. That’s what I’m up to now.”

It looks like the club have managed to pull off one of the deals of the summer with the signing of Merino. He delivered a man-of-the-match display against West Ham and looked every inch a Premier League player. Newcastle will want to keep him and these comments suggest it is a real possibility.

Freddie Woodman has built a good reputation during his short career and was recently brought up to train with the senior England squad. The goalkeeper has a bright future in the game, but the Chronicle suggest that he won’t be given a chance in the Premier League this season. Benitez sees him as a huge talent but believes it is too early to subject him to the pressure of being Newcastle’s number one.

There could be an opportunity for Woodman to break out like Jordan Pickford did at Sunderland later in the season. However, it looks unlikely that he will be picked at this stage. Newcastle have issues in goal and it could be a great decision to blood Woodman, but Benitez favours caution and for that reason, it seems unlikely he will be seen anytime soon.

Jake is a student based in the South East. He is a Newcastle fan and has a keen interest in Dutch football. Jake can be found on Twitter here - @jakejackmann.

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Newcastle United

Takeover developments suggest troubling times ahead at Newcastle United

Jake Jackman



Photo: Reuters

Newcastle United are entering into a tense period of their history and the stakes have never been greater. News broke on Tuesday that the takeover talks between Mike Ashley and Amanda Staveley had broken down. Sky Sports were the first to report the story, publishing the following quotes from a source close to the Magpies’ owner:

“It is only right to let the fans know that there is no deal on the table or even under discussion with Amanda Staveley and PCP.”

The source went on to say that the talks had ‘proved to be exhaustive, frustrating and a complete waste of time’. The reaction on social media was predictably a bad one, as many supporters stated that the same description could be used to discuss Mike Ashley’s ownership of the club.

It could be that the story is a cleverly released one by the Newcastle owner’s camp and brinkmanship on his part, but this is the latest of a long string of disappointing events for the club’s supporters. For them, it feels like the Sports Direct tycoon will never release his hold on the club.

A source close to PCP Capital Partners and Amanda Staveley was quick to address the story. Their side of the talks were keen to make it clear that the consortium had made a bid for Newcastle and that remains on the table.

“PCP Capital Partners made a carefully considered bid in November and it remains on the table.”

It is impossible to completely believe any story that has been leaked to the press during these takeover talks, as the media is a tool used to increase pressure on the opposite side. The takeover of Newcastle United was always likely to be a complex business deal that wouldn’t take place over night, despite Ashley’s optimistic Christmas deadline.

It could be that there are more twists and turns to come where the PCP bid is concerned. However, this story has to be taken at face value and supporters should be prepared for the worst-case scenario, which is Ashley remaining at the helm for the foreseeable future.

Why would no takeover be devastating for Newcastle?

Mike Ashley has been owner of the football club for over ten years and the club have been in the Premier League for the majority of those. Why would another few months of his ownership be a bad thing for Newcastle United?

Well, for Newcastle supporters and those that closely follow the club, that is a simple question to answer. Ashley suggested, during his interview with Sky Sports in August, that he was unable to compete with the rest of the Premier League financially and that, concerningly, the club bank was running on empty.

“So people outside of football looking in sometimes think that’s how much you have in the bank, I must make it crystal clear that I am not wealthy enough in football now to compete with the likes of Man City etcetera, not just Man City. It’s basically a wealthy individual taking on the equivalent of a country. I cannot, and will not. “

The namedrop of Manchester City was interesting at the time, as nobody was expecting Mike Ashley to compete with the club funded by oligarchs. However, the sobering fact for Newcastle fans is that their club (£38.07 million) have spent less than both Huddersfield Town (£51.08 million) and Brighton (£42.84 million) since the three clubs were promoted last season.

Against Swansea City at the weekend, the Magpies started the match with eleven of the players that had been at the club last season in the Championship. Mike Ashley has refused to provide the finances required to grow the team to the next level and their precarious position in the Premier League is a reflection of that.

A third relegation in the Ashley tenure is a real possibility without investment this month. As yet, that hasn’t been forthcoming and, judging by his actions during the last 12 months, few supporters are expecting it.

That could lead to further conflict with manager Rafa Benitez. The Newcastle boss has been very public about his desire for more players. The Spaniard is aware of his very powerful position at the club as he is the one person preventing the supporters from directing their anger at Mike Ashley.

If he isn’t given what he wants, he may consider walking away and that is a situation that the owner must avoid.

Benitez is both Ashley’s best asset and biggest threat. The manager has improved the atmosphere around the club and as long as he is in post, the supporters will believe that better times are ahead.

In addition to that, he is a world-class coach and capable of producing better results with an average squad. Newcastle are currently out of the relegation zone and considering the talent at his disposal, that is a huge achievement. However, if he was to leave his post, a crisis would quickly follow and it would be difficult to see the club maintaining their Premier League status.

The next few weeks and months promise to be crucial in determining the future of Newcastle United. There is nothing wrong with Mike Ashley walking away from talks with PCP and Amanda Staveley. If the deal wasn’t right and little progress was being made, his decision is understandable.

However, as the current owner of the club, it would be unforgivable not to invest before the transfer deadline. The squad isn’t good enough and needs an injection of quality. If that isn’t given, Benitez’s future would be cast into fresh doubt.

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FA Cup

Newcastle United 3-1 Luton Town – Three talking points from St James’ Park

Jake Jackman




Newcastle United made it to the FA Cup third round with a 3-1 win at home to Luton Town. On the evidence of the first-half, it looked to be a straightforward win for the Premier League side, as they scored three goals and had chances for more. However, the League Two leaders fought back in the second-half and got a goal back through Danny Hylton. They continued to press and caused the home side a lot of problems as the game developed.

Rafa Benitez will be delighted that his team have maintained the positive momentum build up over the Christmas period and they will now go into next weekend’s huge game against Swansea City with confidence that they can win the game. There were nervy moments in the second-half, but the game was won by that point and it may have been a case of the players taking their foot off the gas. Luton can return home with credit and re-focus on earning promotion to League One. Here are three talking points from St James’ Park:

Newcastle need a takeover if they are to challenge for the cups

The Magpies qualified from their tie against Luton Town and made it successive FA Cup third round victories for the first time under Mike Ashley’s ownership. The Sports Direct tycoon has been in power at St James’ Park for over ten years and has made it clear during that time that the cup competitions aren’t a priority. Although there is now more respect paid to them with Rafa Benitez as manager, they are far from being serious contenders to win one.

There have been few pundits mentioning Newcastle as potential winners of the FA Cup this season and that is a huge shame for a team that should be desperate to end their long run without a major trophy. There were over 47,000 supporters at a game against a League Two side, which underlines how much the fans value a cup run, but the view isn’t shared in the board room.

The takeover speculation continues and is likely to run for the first few months of 2018. There is nothing in the pipeline imminently and the club are in a state of flux right now. The current owner no longer has any interest and the manager has no clue what the aims of the club are as a result. Newcastle need a takeover to happen as soon as possible and if one does happen, supporters will be hopeful of challenging for the cups in future seasons.

Luton Town are ready to move back up the Football League

This was always going to be a difficult tie for the League Two leaders, but it served as a good litmus test of where they currently are as a club. They have ambition to move back up the Football League and Saturday showed that there a lot of potential for growth. The Hatters took over 7,000 fans to the North East in one of the largest away followings to St James’ Park in recent seasons.

That can partly be explained by the cup tie, but it also shows that the supporters are buying into what the club are building. They have one of the highest-scoring teams in the country and they went to Newcastle with the belief that they could get something from the game. The first-half was a footballing lesson for them, but they showed fight in the second-half and they deserve credit for that.

It would have been easy for the players to have given up or shied away after going in at half-time 3-0 down, but these Luton players were determined to give their Premier League hosts a scare. They deserved a goal for their efforts and that came shortly after the break. The 3-1 final result suggests that it was a straightforward win for the Premier League team, but it was far from that.

Jamaal Lascelles went off injured

The player that Rafa Benitez would have been desperate to stay fit for the rest of the campaign was Jamaal Lascelles, as his importance became evident during his absence earlier in the season. Newcastle went off the rails without their club captain and their defence started to leak goals on a regular basis. Since his return, they have picked up two wins in the Premier League and climbed back out of the relegation zone.

It was a risk for Benitez to play a near full-strength team after a long festive period and it could be a decision that he lives to regret as Lascelles was forced off with an injury in the first-half. It may have been a precautionary measure, but he wasn’t moving well on the pitch and showed visual signs of pain on his face.

Newcastle have a huge home match against Swansea City next weekend and they will be desperate for their skipper to be fit to start. If he isn’t and faces another period on the sidelines, Benitez will be fearful of his side slipping back into the relegation zone as they seemed incapable of picking up points without Lascelles.

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Newcastle United

What would constitute a successful January for Newcastle United?

Jake Jackman



Newcastle United
Photo: Reuters

Newcastle United are headed into the January transfer window desperate for reinforcements as they prepare for another relegation battle. There was friction between Rafa Benitez and Mike Ashley during the summer, as the Magpies’ boss felt that he had been short-changed when it came to recruitment.

There is no doubting that the club already had a good squad filled with hard-working players, but it was always going to be a stretch for them to survive comfortably without added quality. Their manager realised that and his warnings in the media are now beginning to be proven true.

The board now have another opportunity to put that right, but the impending takeover clouds the waters. Ashley is in between a rock and a hard place, as the club is unlikely to be his in May, but if he fails to invest and relegation looks likely, Amanda Staveley may choose to walk away.

The Premier League adds a lot of value to the club and the current owner would be a fool to allow their position in the division to be under any more threat than necessary. Benitez realises the fragile nature of the club’s current position as the following quotes reported by The Guardian show:

“I hope that Mike Ashley is clever enough to understand. What I say is it’s his team, his business, he wants the best for the team.”

“We’ve been progressing and talking about names and the way to move forward. We’re going slowly but I think we can have some good news in the next couple of weeks.”

Although Benitez talks of being hopeful of good news, he is a realist and his previous experiences with Ashley suggest that investment is far from certain. There was conflict last January and again during the summer. It seems that the moment the owner decided to sell the club, his willingness to spend his own money decreased hugely.

He may be ready to take a step back already, but until the club is sold, it remains his responsibility and the coming window could be the most important of his long tenure as owner.

Despite being given a small budget in the summer, Benitez showed that he could still find value for money in the transfer market. Joselu may not be the best Premier League striker, but he is functional and brings out the best in those around him. A return of three goals and one assist may not seem great, but for a £5 million investment, he has managed to contribute.

Mikel Merino has been the best signing made by Newcastle and has emerged as one of the team’s most important players. If the Spanish manager can find another three or four like him, the Magpies will be in a strong position to stay in the top flight.

In an ideal world, Benitez would like to strengthen across the pitch. However, it is difficult to bring in a whole new team in January. This means the manager is going to have to focus on two or three positions that he feels are the weakest in the current squad. At the time of writing, those are likely to be goalkeeper, attacking midfield and striker.

During the summer, Newcastle supporters were surprised that Rafa Benitez was looking to sign a goalkeeper, given they already had Rob Elliot and Karl Darlow on their books. Both of whom have impressed in a Newcastle shirt. However, as the season has developed, neither have looked to have the quality needed to be a Premier League number one.

Both are decent keepers, who can do a job for a period, but the Magpies will want better if they are to progress under a manager that will have lofty ambitions long-term.

It is difficult so suggest names of goalkeepers that Newcastle could target, but it is a position they should look to strengthen in January. Michel Vorm is a potential target given Tottenham have three good individuals capable of playing well between the sticks.

Another goalkeeper that will be keen to look for first-team football is Maarten Stekelenburg, who has been pushed further down the pecking order at Everton by Jordan Pickford. A manager as intelligent as Benitez will have a number of names that he is following across Europe as well.

The creative midfielder position is more clear-cut for Newcastle as they have a long-term target who could be available this January. The Magpies failed to convince Fulham to sell Tom Cairney last January and in the summer, but the struggles of the Cottagers could see them choose to cash in on their club captain. They were expected to challenge for promotion, but they are in 12th at the time of writing.

Although a play-off push remains a possibility, it remains a long-shot that they will return to the Premier League this season. At the age of 26, the Scottish international is running out of time to test himself in the top-flight. If Benitez returns with a bid this month, a deal could happen.

It is important for Newcastle to add creativity to their ranks, as they lack a quality number ten. Ayoze Perez is industrious, but he lacks the physicality to thrive in the role, while Mo Diame has proven that he is better in the middle of the park. Cairney has the quality to contribute in the final third.

His tally of one goal and one assist this season isn’t great proof of that, but it may be that he needs a transfer to refocus his motivation. The Scottish international is able to drop into midfield if required and that makes him a great fit at St James’ Park.

Aleksandar Mitrovic wants to leave Newcastle United this month and that will provide funds for the club to spend if they can find a destination for him. However, that will mean that the club need at least one new striker, preferably two.

Liverpool’s Danny Ings has been mentioned as a target and he would be a useful addition, but supporters will be hoping for a more reliable signing, as the Liverpool striker would represent a risk.

One bonus of it being a World Cup year is that some high-quality players will be available for loans in January as those not playing regularly will want to do all they can to make the summer tournament.

Two Premier League strikers that Newcastle should ask about are Daniel Sturridge and Michy Batshuayi. They have seven Premier League starts between them and neither have started in the month of December. If they have serious World Cup ambitions, they will push for loan moves this month.

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