Eddie Howe has been given the job of trying to keep Newcastle United in the Premier League and, unlike many of his rivals, will be able to give the club a boost in January. Armed with a sizable transfer budget after the £305m Saudi-backed takeover of the club, once the transfer window opens he will have plenty of options. But spending a lot on the right players for a relegation scrap is going to be the tricky part, especially mid-season when it’s hard to sign much more than other clubs’ fringe or unwanted players.
In the past Newcastle have tempted stars such as Kevin Keegan, Alan Shearer, Les Ferdinand, David Ginola, Faustino Asprilla, Peter Beardsley and Andy Cole to come to Tyneside, while producing homegrown talents like Paul Gascoigne and Chris Waddle. But this is different. Can Howe and his recruitment team persuade top players with big reputations to sign up for a dogfight in the northeast of England, some 300 miles from the bright lights of London?
Someone might have to remind them that Newcastle was once voted “the ninth-best night out in the world!” It’s a fine city that is hopelessly in love with football. Midfielder Jermaine Jenas, signed by the club at age 18, told me: “I would recommend going there to anyone. The atmosphere and the fans are unreal. It is special.”
We know from Howe’s time at Bournemouth — over two spells, he took them from 91st in the 92-team Football League to a five-year stay in the Premier League — that he wants players who buy into “the project.” He would show new signings videos of the club history and try to immerse them in that narrative. In short, he will be wary of mercenaries and go for men who will walk through walls to get results.
So who should be on his radar now Newcastle are in a position to make some competitive offers?
The first priority is to tighten a defence that’s leaking an average of nearly two goals a game. How about a cheeky bid to sign John Stones, who has only started two games under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City this season? It is a long shot, but worth a try. Brighton’s ultra-reliable Lewis Dunk and Burnley‘s James Tarkowski would also represent significant upgrades if they could be prised away from clubs desperate to keep them. Both would be big characters in the dressing room, too.
Howe was admired for producing watchable and attractive teams at Bournemouth, but even he would admit they weren’t exactly watertight in defence; that is the area he needs to improve in order to keep Newcastle up.
The other big issue for Newcastle is a lack of creativity in attack, and they have been linked with Barcelona playmaker Philippe Coutinho. Barca, who are in €1.4 billion of debt, would consider offers to sign the Brazilian after an underwhelming spell at Camp Nou and you could picture him linking up with Allan Saint-Maximin to put chances on a plate for striker Callum Wilson, who has been a rare Toon success story. Though whether Coutinho would really fancy the move to St James’ Park is open to question.
Jesse Lingard, who has been unable to get a chance at Manchester United despite a wonderful loan spell at West Ham last season, could perhaps be offered a short-term deal by Newcastle as they try to change the course of their season. Other names on Howe’s midfield wishlist might be James Ward-Prowse of Southampton (despite the fact he signed a new contract in August), England’s Euro 2020 star Kalvin Phillips (Leeds United) and possibly the out-of-favour Harry Winks of Tottenham. Brighton’s Yves Bissouma would be a great catch, too.
Further forward, Newcastle may look at unsettled players around Europe and consider Timo Werner (Chelsea), Alexandre Lacazette (Arsenal), or Marco Asensio (Real Madrid). I wonder too if Aston Villa might consider breaking up the Danny Ings/Ollie Watkins partnership — though that may depend on what their new manager thinks. And would Brentford be tempted to let Newcastle re-sign their former player Ivan Toney, who has blossomed since leaving Tyneside, if the offer was big enough?
When the fog on the Tyne clears at the end of January, it will be fascinating to see how different Newcastle’s squad looks. With only five points and no wins from their first 11 league games, the road ahead looks steep. Howe does not have a magic wand as he prepares to mastermind Newcastle’s proverbial great escape, but he should be given enough money in January to sign the right players.