Newcastle United is already a different club to the one that Amanda Staveley, the Reuben brothers and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund snapped up last October.
In just six months the difference between the final days of Mike Ashley compared to now feels like night and day. Back then it felt like the powers that be were simply going through the motions.
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The final game of the Ashley era was an awful 2-1 defeat at Wolves. After the game trudging back to the car in the rain being a Newcastle fan felt empty. It was a broken shell of the club that once was in the 1990s, head coach Steve Bruce saying after the loss: “Can we do better? We’ll keep looking at it and working on it.”
Only there was far too much to work on. And it didn’t feel like anything would change. It was a club that were happy to let Bruce stagger on with no backing and very little in terms of funds.
During the 2020/21 campaign there were at least four occasions when it felt like Bruce had come to a natural end but each time the message was the same, the head coach will stay on and we won’t be paying the compensation.
Under Ashley it was a club run on business logic and football matters were always a secondary consideration. Newcastle have been crying out for a top striker for years and anybody who doesn’t agree with that need only look at the club’s leading scorer chart this season.
On it, you’ll see Callum Wilson, who hasn’t played since December, up there with six goals and the next on the list Allan Saint-Maximin, who has been in and out the team. After that converted midfielder Joelinton, defender Fabian Schar and box to box man Joe Willock have two each.
For a club that has top six aspirations in the long-term that’s not going to be good enough but that’s the type of squad United’s new custodians inherited. Under Ashley the aim of the game was simply to stay in the division.
Forget the cups, forget Europe – just take the money on offer from Premier League funding, and the odd interview about having no money and being for sale will suffice. At a place like St James’ Park where Kevin Keegan once roared: “The sky’s the limit,” and “Watch out Sir Alex we’re after your title”, the previous regime sucked the life away from United fans.
It was like it or lump it. So it was little wonder that the afternoon of October 7, when the takeover was finally confirmed, resulted in wild scenes of celebration.
Indeed, it was almost like Newcastle had won a trophy as fans partied into the small hours of the next day. Since then the Saudi-backed consortium have had their own challenges. But they have dealt with them well. They knew Bruce’s unpopularity with fans was not sustainable and did something about it.
They spoke to a wide range of managers and gave an ambitious young boss in Eddie Howe the chance to revive his career. Since then they have backed Howe with £ 91million in the January window and signed Brazil and England internationals.
They have put their money where their mouth is. Off the pitch, they have engaged with supporters, invited the local press into the boardroom to chat, brought back legendary players, changed the stadium bar back to Shearer’s and are set to put the all-time leading scorer’s statue on the right side of the wall.
This seems like just the start with plans for a new training ground unfolding soon, stadium improvements, the match day experience for fans set to improve and another summer shop for Howe when it comes to reinforcing the team.
This season isn’t done yet. A Premier League place still needs to be sealed. What happens next season will be interesting but fans won’t be demanding Europe or anything else next term. The one guarantee that seems to be clear though is that this will be the last season fighting Premier League relegation for some time.
Go back six months, with relegation feeling like a certainty and many would have been grateful for any prospect of survival. Let alone the bright future that lies ahead.