Great things are expected on Tyneside but Eddie Howe spent the new riches well in January and has made more astute signings
Guardian writers’ predicted position: 7th (NB: this is not necessarily Louise Taylor’s prediction but the average of our writers’ tips)
Last season’s position: 11th
Odds to win the league (via Oddschecker): 100-1
Pretty good. Under Eddie Howe’s intelligent management Newcastle were a team transformed during the second half of last season and there is no reason why they should not continue on that upward trajectory.
Although, on paper, last year’s Saudi Arabian-led takeover has turned them into the world’s wealthiest club, the owners are determined to spend wisely and remain acutely conscious of the need to remain within financial fair play rules. In other words, Howe’s reconstruction work is expected to be much more a case of evolution than revolution.
While on-field signings appear suitably sensible, the installation of the former FA and Brighton technical director Dan Ashworth as director of football and Darren Eales as chief executive look shrewd. Eales, a Cambridge law graduate with past experience at West Brom and Tottenham, joins from MLS club Atlanta where he was much admired. Their appointments will allow co-owner and director Amanda Staveley, who ran the club magnificently last season, more time to concentrate on wider projects.
So far Howe seems to have bought well this summer, with the widely coveted and, crucially, left-footed central defender Sven Botman arriving from Lille, the England goalkeeper Nick Pope signing from Burnley and Matt Targett, so quietly impressive at left-back last season, making his move from Aston Villa permanent. Howe remains in the market for another striker and a new midfielder but already possesses plenty of talent and an outstanding leader in right-back Kieran Trippier.
Hopes are high that Brazil’s Bruno Guimarães, a January buy from Lyon, will continue to shine in midfield but his manager will need to determine whether Botman should be partnered by Dan Burn, Fabian Schär or Jamaal Lascelles. Howe also needs to coax the gifted, but sometimes frustrating, Allan Saint-Maximin into increased consistency, while hoping his injury prone centre-forward Callum Wilson stays fit and Joe Willock starts fulfilling his potential.
Howe has been such a success at St James’ Park that Newcastle fans probably believe he is capable of walking on the river Tyne. Club executives shudder slightly when they recall that Unai Emery was their original first choice to replace Steve Bruce and the former Bournemouth manager merely a backstop option.
Believed to be the first obsessive A-ha fan – “I want other people to hear what I hear” – at Newcastle’s helm, Howe is evangelical about a band he has followed since the 1980s. Tactically smart and emotionally intelligent he has impressed hugely, transforming previously underachieving players such as Schär and the apparently reborn Joelinton. The 44-year-old describes himself as “a bit shy and introverted” and spent part of his post-Bournemouth sabbatical “digitalising my training sessions”. Howe took a fortnight off this summer to drive down the west coast of the United States with his wife and three sons and has devoted spare time to helping move his family into a new home on Tyneside.
Botman. Technically accomplished and physically imposing, the left-footed 22-year-old central defender’s £35m arrival on Tyneside from Lille is regarded as a significant coup, particularly as, among others, Serie A champions Milan were desperate for Botman’s signature. After kicking off his career in Ajax’s academy, Botman has joined the senior Netherlands squad for training camps and is regarded as on the verge of winning his first cap.
World Cup impact
Trippier will very much hope to be part of Gareth Southgate’s squad and, providing he stays fit, it would be a surprise were Howe’s first signing to be omitted. Wilson has a case for inclusion in England’s attacking ranks but the centre-forward needs to stay out of the treatment room. Meanwhile Guimarães should be on the plane to Doha with Brazil. Ditto Schär and Switzerland.
Alternative attractions during World Cup
Try a night out in the infamous Bigg Market and the adjacent Quayside but, be warned, no one wears a coat and you will have zero street cred if you appear in anything remotely woollen. Admire Anthony Gormley’s famous Angel of the North sculpture and try to detect a resemblance to the former Newcastle striker Andy Carroll. Take up surfing from the nearby North Sea beaches at Tynemouth and Whitley Bay.
Leading the shirt sales
Bruno Guimarães, the adored £35m Brazil midfielder acquired from Lyon last January has pushed Saint-Maximin off the top of the pecking order courtesy of some chart-topping midfield displays. Thousands of hearts and minds were captured as “Bruno” marked his full debut at Southampton by scoring the winner with a sublime backheel volley. How Arsenal, who had been tracking Guimarães for some time, must be kicking themselves for not signing him when they had the chance. Now a 24-year-old who favours the No 8 position but can also impress when deployed as a No 6 is determined to help guide Howe’s side into the Champions League.
Saint-Maximin: The self styled “King of Twitter” is invariably entertaining. Posts plenty of sumptuous videos full of defender-discombobulating dribbles, ever more inventive hairstyles and gorgeous Mediterranean panoramas surrounding the French winger’s holiday home in Nice. Also adept at using social media to help favourite charities and good causes.
If Netflix did a Newcastle doc …
Planet Toon would be fronted by Sir David Attenborough and detail life on a particularly peculiar parallel universe. The soundtrack would feature music by the manager’s favourite band, A-ha, and Saint-Maximin and Guimarães would compete for the most airtime. A specially extended episode could centre on the squad’s mid-winter break to Jeddah and refuse to gloss over Jonjo Shelvey’s deportation following an unfortunate breach of etiquette while in the company of assorted Saudi Arabian royals.