Well, it is not often I open a column with the blaring statement of “thank goodness for Newcastle United”, I can tell you.
Just in case we were starting to miss international football just a little bit too much, UEFA felt compelled to treat us to such delights like the Nations League final stages (woo) and Andorra vs England (double woo). The weekend provided us with a fairly standard World Cup Qualifying evening as England breezed past the Andorrans, Scotland won with plenty of drama and Northern Ireland reverted very much to their mean and failure. Throw in Wales’ goalkeeper doing something utterly hilarious and all was normal.
Not that anyone in the football world actually noticed, oh no. Everyone outside of the city of Newcastle was up in arms at the news of Mike Ashley finally handing over the club to new owners. Legally, we have to make it very, very clear that Newcastle United have not been taken over by the Saudi Arabian royal family, OK? The club is now owned, mainly, by an investment fund set up by, er, the Saudi Arabian royal family.
Naturally, many people inside football and out have suddenly discovered a moral backbone and are shouting their disgust that a football club can be owned by people with a track record of human rights issues – and no, we are not talking about Sports Direct here, he’s sold up (do keep up).
The same people are surprised that the Premier League have suddenly changed their stance on the takeover – a shift that has absolutely nothing to do with a sheikh being mates with Boris and calling in a favour, you understand.
“How can a country with a dubious record of atrocities abroad be involved in the beautiful game?” people are crying. “Surely this is sportswashing or something?” without fully grasping the fact that you could make a strong argument for the Premier League being that itself. It has even got Newcastle fans asking themselves some very big questions – mainly, “who will the new manager be?”
Rumours that the Saudis asked Amanda Stavely to find them a new castle to buy and are now fuming that they’ve been landed with a very average football team are completely untrue, as are the vast majority of the transfer rumours now doing the rounds.
A penny for the thoughts of Steve Bruce? Well, he’ll get more than a penny for them with an £8m golden goodbye being lined up and probably delivered by the time you read this. Graeme Jones will look after the team, hopefully in a better manner than he looked after Luton Town, before a high-profile boss gets an oil tanker full of cash thrown in his direction to take over.
Rafa Benitez has already ruled himself out, perfectly happy at another club that has/had more money than sense. Some Newcastle fans are calling for Antonio Conte, the first sign that a wad of moolah means they don’t care that much about “entertaining football”. Others are suggesting Eddie Howe would be great – forgetting that when Bournemouth started to spend money on his watch they got relegated. Mind you, Howe is probably waiting for the Southampton job as he doesn’t like going too far away from home. The most sensible name being linked so far is Graham Potter, though you have to wonder how long it is before Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard are in the mix. Has anyone got Zidane’s number?
A new manager is one thing, getting the right players in January is another and thanks to Ashley’s frugal approach to club management, Newcastle could be able to spend £200m in the next window and not break any financial fair play rules.
Therefore, every player that didn’t get a move in the summer is now being linked to St James’ Park – step forward Jesse Lingard, Kalidou Koulibaly, James Tarkowski, Mauro Icardi, Aaron Ramsey, Gareth Bale and, of course, Philippe Coutinho. Others are suggesting Harry Kane and Kylian Mbappe are within reach. Hell, why not get both?
Having the money to spend is one thing – spending it wisely is another, isn’t that right Everton, West Ham (under the Icelandic lot), Leeds (hello Mr Risdale) and Mr Ed?
Anyone who thought Ashley might now be done with football, think again. He’s got his eyes on the Championship version of the House of Fraser, Derby County.
In non-Newcastle news, Bruno Fernandes is currently tapping up Leeds’ Raphinha as they are best mates and hey, United don’t have enough wide attacking types.
He might be better off trying to find a friend at Barcelona and grease the wheels for Danny van der Beek to move there as, apparently, there’s interest from the Catalans. Again, I wish I was as broke as Barcelona.
Ronaldo would like United to sign Juve wideman Enrico Chiesa which can only mean one thing. United will sign Juve wideman Enrico Chiesa.