Tottenham Hotspur kick off against Newcastle United in a few hours, and while it’s always an important match in the English Premier League, it certainly takes a back seat to the change of ownership on Tyneside. Mike Ashley selling the club has taken everyone by surprise, but the questions now regarding an ownership group that is backed by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, PIF, had made all of football sit up. Joining us for Know Your Opponent this week is Elijah Newsome from Coming Home Newcastle to answer some difficult questions surrounding the Magpies.
CFC: Let’s get the obvious out of the way: The takeover. What are your thoughts?
CHN: I think most Newcastle fans are in the same boat that I am. There is optimism that Ashley has finally left the club, but there are definitely concerns with the new ownership group. It is an awkward position to be in as a fan, because you certainly don’t want to stop being a fan of the club, yet you are judged if you remain to be a fan of a club. It would be so tough to expect Spurs fans to walk away from the club based on ownership, something they have no control over. Newcastle fans feel as if right now people are expecting them to do something about the ownership group. We have no control over who owns the club. Believe me, we tried to force Ashley out as an owner multiple times with no success. We have to accept that these are the people that own the club. A lot of bad comes with that, but also there is a lot of good for the local community that can come with increased investment in the city as a whole as well as investment in the team/academy/facilities. It truly is a tough position to be in right now.
CFC: Same question, different group: Are Newcastle supporters split on this?
CHN: I think for the most part supporters are happy that there is new ownership, and definitely feel uneasy with the fact that a chunk of this ownership group is the Saudi Arabian PIF. There is definitely a sect of the supporters that are completely fine with the ownership group and go as far to defend their decision to buy the club, put Saudi flags in their Twitter profile names, and dress up as Mohammed Bin-Salman at games. Those people suck, and fortunately are a small part of the fanbase. The majority of the fans base is trying to see if it is even possible to sway the minds of the Saudi PIF regarding human rights issues and their stances regarding the LGBTQ+ community. The unfortunate reality is that we cannot control their actions. We can’t really force them out as owners (we tried that with Mike and it did not work haha). We really can’t do much except try our best to advocate for the folks affected by all the awful things this regime has carried out.
CFC: The Mike Ashley era is officially over, and while it wasn’t the smoothest of rides, was there any positive aspect of his ownership you’ll remember fondly?
CHN: I actually do respect the fact that the club was profitable during his reign. I think that is something you really don’t see often anymore and it actually sets up this new ownership group well. They can spend a lot of money without violating any FFP regulations
CFC: As of interview time, Steve Bruce is still the manager of Newcastle United, but it seems he won’t be around for the weekend and Graeme Jones will be caretaker. What went wrong with Bruce and who is on the shortlist to replace him?
CHN: Well, Steve Bruce has been tactically inept for a while. He seems to be the league’s biggest benificiary of luck since he has taken this role. When you look at the raw numbers Newcastle are nearly last in every category this season, and over the course of his tenure at Newcastle they have put up relegation worthy stats. Normally managers would be sacked for such a horrendous start. But, Bruce seems to still have a job. As a manager, his lineup selection has been horrendous. Often playing players out of position, on short rest, or not dropping players who have had consistently awful performances. Additionally, Bruce has a nasty habit of waiting until the 80th minute to make his first sub or simply not adjusting his tactics at all throughout the match. Graeme Jones completely transformed the team when he came in last season. He brought fresh ideas and tactics to a team that was going through one of its worst runs of form in the Ashley era... an era in which the team was relegated TWICE. Right now replacements like Fonesca, Rangnick, and Lampard are the front runners to take over whenever Bruce is fired. The club probably would look to hire a sporting director before a manager. This means we could see Bruce or Jones stick around as caretaker manager for the next few weeks.
CFC: There have been reports that this takeover may not immediately result in huge transfers being done by the club. One report even said the goal was to only have £150m net spend over the next five years. Do you actually expect that to be the case?
CHN: Staveley said it best herself. It is unrealistic to try to recruit the best players in the world when we don’t have world-class facilities. Mike Ashley famously neglected the academy, St. James’, and the training ground. All of that has to be addressed before you see Newcastle even going after a guy of Icardi’s status. I think we see some 40-60m signings over the next few seasons. I would be shocked if they spent anywhere close to 100m for a player. The club needs so much work internally that the focus should be on the infrastructure of the club both literally and figuratively
CFC: Any chance Newcastle splash the cash in January to bolster the squad if they’re still in the relegation zone? Maybe a cheeky £200m bid for Harry Kane to test Daniel Levy’s resolve? What positions really need upgrading at St. James Park?
CHN: Newcastle should try to improve in January regardless of their status. The simple fact is that we could upgrade almost everywhere on the pitch. The majority of our center backs are old, we have no clear plan outside of Jamal Lewis for either wingback position, Joe Willock has been the only actual midfield upgrade since Jonjo Shelvey was brought in before Newcastle’s relegation, and there is no decent striker in this team outside of the often injured Callum Wilson. This January I would expect Newcastle to probably bring in another striker, a center-back, and a midfielder. This summer I think we could see a lot of improvements, but I think in the short term those are probably the three positions that would immediately help the team secure safety.
CFC: Who should Spurs be worried about the most on Sunday?
CHN: Allan Saint-Maximin. He has been the only Newcastle player that has looked good all season and has been so dangerous going up against any back line in the Premier League. He really is our only source of offense at the moment, and honestly, he is our only chance of picking up a result of any kind in this match. Another shout would be for Callum Wilson who should be healthy for this match. The man scores goals when he is healthy. He does not need good service or a bunch of chances to grab a goal. That fact makes him the perfect striker for Newcastle who literally cannot provide decent service or any chances.
CFC: What’s your expected lineup for the Magpies?
CHN: Newcastle Starting XI ( 5-3-2): Dubravka, Ritchie, Fernandez, Lascelles (C), Clark, Manquillo, Hayden, Willock, Almiron, Saint-Maximin, Wilson
Newcastle have rolled out a 5-3-2 for the majority of the season and I don’t expect them to change from this despite them getting key players back from injury. Shelvey could make an appearance in the starting XI, but I honestly only think that happens if Newcastle switch to the 4-3-3 formation that carried them to Premier League safety last season.
CFC: How about a prediction?
CHN: We know it is going to be Bruce’s 1000th match as a manager. So, I am going to go ahead and say this will be a classic Newcastle smash and grab win. 1-0 win for Newcastle with a goal scored in the 88th minute.