‘A change is as good as a rest’, they say. And given that we’ve had an unwelcome break from football these past seven weeks, some change would be a welcome distraction.
Enter Amanda Staveley, the Reuben Brothers and PCP Partners, who – whatever you think of the ethics of their Saudi-backed takeover – have the opportunity to wield the axe at St James’ Park, and fix some of the worst ills of Mike Ashley’s 13-year tenure as custodian of Newcastle United.
So what should be their plan in the coming days, weeks and months? Here are a few starters for them to mull over:
Take key staff off furlough
An easy win here, but an about-turn on one of Ashley’s final insults could be done on the first day, with a simple flick of a pen (or, more accurately, a few keystrokes given the ongoing lockdown).
News broke a few days ago that scouting supremo Steve Nickson had been recalled to work, but there are plenty more who could help kick start the revolution. For starters, the social media manager deserves a recall (and a raise), if just to continue the hugely welcome distraction of streams from the archive on Saturday afternoons via YouTube.
Reconnect with the fanbase
True, the new owners would be kicking at an open door given the anti-PR of Keith Bishop and co, but re-engagement with the fan base would be hugely welcome. Reaching out to the Supporters Trust would be a fine start, while a certain podcast would of course love to host decision-makers and hear about their plans for the future.
Longer term, righting the farce that was the fans forum with its North Korea-esque minutes would solidify formal dialogue. Ditto a spot on the board for a fan representative. Enfranchise the disenfranchised and support for a new regime will surely follow.
Reconnect with club icons
In the same way that the club has at times insulted its loyal support of late, it has also ignored the legacies of some of its greatest servants. Kevin Keegan of course is the most pertinent figure here; a man who vowed never to set foot at St James Park while Ashley was in charge.
Alan Shearer too was slighted and left hanging in the summer of 2009 – hardly the way to treat the club’s record goalscorer. And most recently, Rafael Benitez – who left under such a cloud nearly a year go – needs an olive branch extended in his direction.
Talk has been of an ambassadorship for Keegan, while Shearer has – by virtue of his BBC connection – profile unlike most other figures in UK football. Both would be huge allies, while Benitez is held in huge esteem internationally. Longer term, a warming of relations with him could ease the passage of what could be tricky political exchanges with the global footballing elites.
Make St James’ Park hostile again
Where once it was a fortress, St James’ has of late too often resembled a library. Of course there are many ingredients that go into turning United’s home into a cauldron of noise, but positivity at regime change should push excitement and the volume up naturally when lockdown is eventually eased.
Building a winning team on the pitch will grow the atmosphere further of course, as would the actioning of the mooted move of moving away fans down from Level 7. A little concerted focus could fix the infrastructure problem that has meant United have been in breach of Premier League regulations for years now, as well as seriously hampering the atmosphere along the way.
And while the new regime are getting out the paint brushes back of house to tart the place up, they may want to designate a spot to store the flags that make up Wor Flags’ stunning displays. Rapprochement with the group would go some way into improving the atmosphere.
Improve the training ground and Academy
The infamous paddling pool is something of a cause celebre, but it’s emblematic of a total lack of due care given to the training ground and Academy.
United should have a new player graduating every year or so into the first team, and their hit rate of late has been double or triple that (a rate that would be even worse were it not for the two-for-one Longstaff brothers). The fact is that even the League One club down the road have better facilities than our Premier League side.
And as well as saving money on buying stars through investing in the Academy, those who are courted from other clubs will be more likely to sign if the facilities are more reflective of a progressive 21st century football club.
Upgrade the manager
A thorny issue that’s best mothballed until the summer, but Steve Bruce – despite his positive feeling for the club, and decent job in trying circumstances – is not the man to lead United up the league and into Europe a few years down the line.
Football in 2020 is increasingly political, and an upgrade is needed to steer a steady course through waters which will be choppy with media bias and fan expectation. That’s to say nothing of the tactical acumen required.
Benitez, Allegri and Pochettino have all been linked. As discussed in our next issue of True Faith in more depth, any of them would be a fine upgrade on a man who tried, but simply isn’t up to the job.
Scrap the transfer policy
A policy that lost us Rondon and gained us Joelinton has to be scrapped and quickly. The fact is that a policy of buying only players aged under 26 with supposed resale value does not bring footballing success. Youth supported by experience is the way to go – as attested to by pretty much every silverware-winning side in recent years.
Chasing resale value alone is a lost cause.
Improve commercial income
Football is – for better or worse – a global business nowadays, and United have underachieved when it comes to maximising income for years. Success on the pitch will encourage a desire for corporate association off it, but the club needs to be set up accordingly.
An appropriate sponsor for the shirt needs to be found. Fun88 were an upgrade on Wonga, but as a gambling firm they still prey on the most vulnerable in society, no matter how many wry GIFs they share on social.
All eyes will be on whether new owners slap Saudi branding on the famous black and white stripes. Any branding association with the Kingdom would need to be very sensitively navigated given accusations of sports washing.
– Chris Shipman