Who knows when the takeover of Newcastle United will be completed and announced but given we are being told consistently “no red flags” by the less histrionic sections of the media, I’d hope that will be sooner than later. We could do with getting beyond this phoney news stage and into the business of what the club will look like when it formally passes from Ashley to the new people.

I think we can expect to read a lot more speculation in the media. Much of that will be outlandish links to any player on the planet and part of that will be pushed by agents desperate to see how they can get their clients on what they might expect will be a Black & White gravy train. Instead of increasing my reading of the football press I rather think I’ll be refining and reducing it because so much of it is about to go absolutely mental.

Anyway, what we do know is there are positions at Newcastle United that will need to be filled as the new regime takes control. Much of the coverage in the last few weeks has focused on who might be the new manager of Newcastle United. It is inconceivable Steve Bruce is staying in post. Depending on what happens to this COVID-19 blighted season, Bruce might already have been in the SJP dug-out for the last time already.

The names in the frame are a stellar short-list including Mauricio Pocchettino, the former Spurs manager who was sacked last November after being in North London almost five years and building a side that got to the Champions League Final. He appears to have established himself as a favourite and the whisper is he is keen on the job and impressed by what he has heard from United’s soon to be new owners. Intriguingly, former Juventus manager, Massimiliano Allegri has been spoken of as the new United boss, exchanging the Bianconeri of Turin for the Black & Whites of Newcastle. Allegri’s CV is impressive having managed the Old Lady from 2014-19 and in a period of complete domination of Serie A. He has taken Juve to two Champions League Finals and has numerous Coppa Italia successes to his name. I think it is fair to say Allegri is the real deal.

The attraction for any new club for both men is they are available and compensation is not a roadblock. I don’t doubt for one moment that either man won’t have been courted by Europe’s elite clubs. Indeed Pocchettino is frequently spoken of as a successor to Zidane at Real Madrid as well as potentially a good fit for Man Utd if and when the Old Trafford support grows weary of Solksjaer’s faltering rebuilding programme.

A name that has apparently dropped from news reports is Rafa Benitez, former beloved manager of this parish who could take no more of Ashley last June and exited Barrack Road for Dalian Pro in the Chinese Super League. Rafa is well remunerated in China for his talents but it remains to be seen if he is getting job satisfaction in the same way he did in England, Italy and Spain. Were Rafa to make a return to SJP it would require United to weigh Dalian in with considerable compensation and the 60-year-old would have to break his contract which is something he is yet to do in his managerial career. There would be a lot of positives to Rafa’s return to Barrack Road. He knows English football, the PL and of course Newcastle United as well as some of his former charges who remain Magpies. Rafa understands what the club has to do to progress and of course he has an excellent relationship with the supporters. Unlike Pocchettino and Allegri I wouldn’t expect Benitez to be looking beyond United for other opportunities.

They are three top-class candidates for the job and I don’t think many of us would grumble if any were making their way to the home dug out any time soon.

But above the manager’s position, we are told there is a Sporting Director to appoint, a new board of directors and executive positions to fill. Just thinking of the new emerging corporate governance for United puts in a harsh light the 2-bob way the club has been operating for the last thirteen years. We’ve had Charnley, completely over-promoted, shit-scared to speak in public or make a decision. Above him, we’ve had the ill-defined roles of Justin Barnes and Keith Bishop – uncommunicative and unaccountable whilst there are others on what passes for an executive team who have collected job titles but whose CVs suggest they have been over-promoted on the basis they are cheap and available.

What we can see of the new board of directors appears to involve Yasir Al-Rumayyan as Chairperson. I don’t think there will be a bigger hitter in world football than the top boy at the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund. I think we can safely say the Harvard educated, 50-year-old golf loving Saudi, who speaks perfect English will be at SJP to oversee surviving in the PL and not competing in the cups. I don’t expect Al-Rumayyan will be at United day to day and there will be others who will manage operations. I’d expect Al-Rumayyan’s role to oversee the strategic direction of the club, monitor progress and be the man to whom everyone else will be accountable.

Amanda Staveley has been the central driving force of the takeover and with a 10% stake in United will be a member of the board. I don’t expect Staveley to operate in the shadows and wouldn’t be surprised were she to be the public face of the club in many regards. I can’t imagine it will be Al-Rumayyan meeting club directors at matches or liaising closely with the football authorities in honesty. Though as I understand it, Staveley is domiciled in Dubai she may also may not be a regular in the Directors box either. The situation is different for James Reubens, now of QPR but who is a tip to represent the Reuben interests at United.

A key appointment will be an executive to oversee the operations of the club and provide the link with the PL and the wider football community. I’ve seen Ian Ayre’s name linked with a post at United. Ayre has worked most notably at Liverpool FC where he was on a collision course with fans over ticket prices but on the other side significantly increased the club’s commercial revenue and that I would imagine will be a key objective for him and the club. He’s currently working with Nashville in the MLS but was also with 1860 Munich for a spell. In some ways Ayre reminds me a little of Freddie Fletcher who arrived at United in the days of John Hall from Rangers and put the club on commercial steroids but simultaneously managed to rub up supporters the wrong way in the process. Ayre would be a considerable trade-up on Charnley, though he might not be able to make as good a cup of tea or count the paper-clips as quickly.  

I’ll be duly corrected by anyone reading this but I’ve not seen a name linked with the role of Sporting Director at United. In the modern world it is a critical position and one responsible for developing a strategic direction for the club as a sporting institution. Whoever becomes the Sporting Director will have responsibility for developing the club’s infrastructure, managing and increasing its scouting network and a whole range of other activities that have been criminally neglected on the Ashley watch. I’d hope we don’t get a nugget response about training facilities being “adequate” as we had from Charnley last summer.

I’m not privy to what else might be going on but I would hope any new board of directors at United also has a local dimension to it and unlike the likes of Charnley, Moncur, Beardsley et al doesn’t just blow smoke up the arses of those weighing them in with a salary and tickets for the best seats. For all their dazzling corporate reputations none of Staveley, Al-Rumayyan, Reuben or Ayre (if it is to be him) has an understanding of Newcastle United, the city or the North East region. They will require an independent-minded consingliori within the United power structure of good reputation, respected and professional who won’t just tell them what they want to hear. And they should be ready to listen.

As an addition to that, the new board can establish a new way of working by liaising very closely with the Newcastle United Supporters Trust as its key representative of supporters. With 10,000+ members, NUST is the only democratic and accountable supporters’ body aligned to the Football Supporters Association. There is no other organisation like it around the club. Bringing the NUST into the boardroom with voting rights is a no-brainer, a paradigm shift and a massive asset for a new type of football club at the top level. This is no exhaustive list but NUST can have a key role in the selection and appointment of Supporters Liaison Officers, working with stewarding, ticket allocation, away travel, safe standing etc. It is a door waiting to be pushed open and the club can be confident that with NUST, the people they are talking to are elected representatives of supporters, accountable to us and taking forward what has been democratically agreed in a transparent and audited manner. NUST can be central to the links between supporters and the Foundation – a gap that has largely stymied its effectiveness.

That’s not to suggest the NUST is the only supporters group the club liaises with. There are special interest groups including the Newcastle United Disabled Supporters Association and the Newcastle United LGBT+ group with have specific objectives and should be allowed to speak to the club directly regarding them. Similarly, fan groups like Wor Flags (previously Gallowgate Flags) should have access to relevant people within the club to discuss the displays and choreography that provided such spectacle last season and before!

This fanzine has articulated the role Newcastle United can have in the wider social and economic life of the city, Tyneside and the wider North East. If United is to become the Club of the North © then the club has to significantly expand its role within education, health and economic regeneration.  I don’t think in those coming into lead the club – Al-Rumayyan, Staveley and the Reubens Newcastle United has ever had so many well-connected, influential people at the controls of the region’s most prominent sporting institution. I hope these people are able to influence others in the private and public sectors to make decisions that will improve the lives of the people of the NE. Thirty years ago it might have been fanciful to hope for that from the people running  a football club but the world has changed in that time.

For as long as I can recall, supporters have despaired at how our club has been run. It has been unprofessional, provincial, narrow-minded and populated by too many with their snouts in the trough, out for themselves. That has to change and we have to aspire to something greater than what we have known. The new ownership has to be about more than better players running around on the pitch (though that will be a good start admittedly).

This club has to become known for its professionalism, its high standards of conduct and be exemplary in everything it does so we can be proud to call Newcastle United our club.

Keep On, Keepin’ On …

MICHAEL MARTIN