COMMENT: It’s his coaching, isn’t it? Newcastle United’s surge up the table. This isn’t about an open chequebook. This is the result of good coaching. Of good man-management. The biggest influence on Newcastle’s current third-place is the manager. End of…
On paper. In this Premier League season. Newcastle aren’t a top four team. And that’s at full-strength. Deprive Eddie Howe of his two biggest attacking talents – Allan Saint-Maximin and Alexander Isak – and you’d say a top ten placing would be a decent result before the World Cup break-up.
But instead, Howe and Newcastle have far, far exceeded expectations. They now sit comfortably inside the top three. And Howe has managed to do this with names like Jacob Murphy, Dan Burn and Sean Longstaff on his team sheet. Good pros. But not world-beaters. Certainly not players capable of walking into the XI of a Liverpool or Manchester United. But they’re outperforming them. And not just for the odd game here or there. But consistently. Consistently these players are producing some of the best form of their careers – and much of it is due to Howe and his staff.
The spending. The big names. That’ll come. It’s inevitable. But today? Well, the core of today’s Newcastle, in terms of talent and name, still bear similar resemblance to teams built and dismantled throughout this century. Bruno Guimaraes is a find, certainly. But in terms of reputation, we’re not talking Neymar or Eden Hazard. The Brazilian moved almost 12 months ago from Lyon as a relative gamble. A talent. A player with a good profile amongst those in the know. But not one expected to deliver as he has. And certainly not in the timeframe in which this form was achieved.
That’s the result of management. From Howe and his No2 Jason Tindall, to their support staff – both on the training pitch and in the front office. The ease with which Guimaraes has settled and performed is a triumph for everyone, not only at Benton, but beyond,
And Guimaraes is no Robinson Crusoe. Indeed, where there was an expectation of the midfielder lifting standards across the pitch, Howe and Tindall’s coaching has rescued the Toon careers of several of his teammates.
Just as we had last season’s ‘ah-ha’ moment of converting Joelinton from a workmanlike centre-forward into a powerhouse midfielder. This term, the big story has been Miguel Almiron. Like Joelinton, the Paraguay international appeared to have one foot outside of St James’ Park over the summer. But now? Today? Well the lad’s a first choice. Undroppable. As influential as any player at Newcastle this season.
Again, a triumph for Howe. But also perhaps Darren Eales, the club’s recently-appointed chief exec. It was he who bought and sold Almiron while in charge of Atlanta United. If ever the attacking midfielder had an ally, it was Eales. Having a familiar, supportive face now on Tyneside must have had some influence on what we’re seeing from Almiron this season.
Of course, the spending power of the club’s Saudi owners is a factor. And it is having a direct effect on the Toon’s success so far. But not how the likes Jurgen Klopp have interpreted it.
Instead, this column would argue the increased transfer budget is acting as a driving motivator for the current dressing room. These players want to be part of the Toon revolution. They know they’re at the ground floor of something special – and want to hold on for as long as they can. Where pre-PIF a 60-70 per cent effort in daily training would be enough to survive, today nothing but 100 per cent will do. And for some of these players, even that won’t be enough in the future. However for the moment, just the threat of being replaced is lifting this group to unforeseen standards.
When Dan Ashworth, the club’s technical director, declared Newcastle “had no ceiling”, he was right. But the claim wasn’t just about the club’s newly found market strength. Ashworth was simply echoing the words of Freddy Shepherd and Sir John Hall. Both former chairmen long spoke of Newcastle as a “sleeping giant”. It’s potential. It’s culture. It’s heritage. Everything that marks the Toon and it’s support as unique.
Newcastle United are a massive, massive club. It always has been. But the difference now is they’re no longer a novelty. An exciting away trip for Klopp and co once a season. With their new money, now they’re a threat. The giant has awoken. And the rest of the league are becoming increasingly rattled.
Indeed, the crazy thing is, Newcastle are yet to truly flex those financial muscles. To be sitting in the top three hasn’t been about their chequebook, it’s been all about good coaching and man-management.
With this team of unassuming, modest names, Eddie Howe – beyond all else – has been the key to Newcastle’s surge up the table.