Against my better judgement, I am now very much into the World Cup. I think after participating in a couple of TF’s WC memories podcasts my appetite was piqued but seeing our new lad Garang Kuol draw a defining save from Martinez in the Argentina goal after a mesmerising performance from Messi has finally drawn me into a tournament I had a lot of problems with.
But here I am making sure I can get to see all the games in the KO stages and obviously watching those Newcastle United connections.
Not that whatever is going on in Qatar can completely replace our collective Newcastle United obsession and my thoughts drifted back to anticipating what will be in store when the football circus in the desert closes down in a couple of weeks.
I’m not going to sugar-coat it, I think we are about to enter one of the most crucial periods in Newcastle United for as long as I can remember. There has been a lot of justified back-slapping for everyone at the club and as we sit in third in the Premier League it is fair to say the mood amongst supporters can’t be any happier.
There’s no question after 15 games we have a superb platform to build upon to go and achieve something this season.
For me the period from our League Cup tie with Bournemouth on 21/Dec/22 to the PL away game to Palace on 21/Jan/23 is pivotal to what we can achieve in the short and possibly medium terms.
Over that month we have two Cup ties (hopefully three given the fourth round will be in January too all being well) – obviously Bournemouth in the League Cup at a packed St James’ Park and away to Sheffield Wednesday in the FAC on 7/Jan/23, which is a great nostalgia trip but a tougher assignment than some might realise.
In the PL we have matches with Leicester (a) on Boxing Day and a bizarrely timed home game with Leeds on New Year’s Eve. That is followed by the trip to Arsenal on the 3/Jan/23 with a KO time that makes it really difficult to get back to the NE from after full-time. Cheers. We make it three games on the spin to London opposition with Fulham at SJP on 15/Jan/23 and that Palace away game the weekend later.
Those five PL games will get us to the land-mark 20 games played and at that point over the half-way mark and a point at which we can have a serious look at where we are with what will be 18 games remaining.
If we are still in the top four at that point as well as still in both Cup competitions then it could be game on for something seriously good by the end of the season.
Clearly, there has been a lot of discussion about the potential loss of momentum the World Cup has placed upon us and we’ll only be able to judge that in my opinion when we get to the end of January and take a judgement then. We don’t know what impact the exertions out in Qatar have had upon our lads and I still have everything crossed they all come back uninjured and with their heads straight. Similar applies to those who’ve rightly taken the break as an opportunity to spend time with families in warmer climes. I’m not jealous, honestly.
I’m probably less anxious about the momentum thing simply because I’ve grown to trust Eddie Howe’s professionalism and his methods. The recent past has also demonstrated when the Head Coach and his team are with the players in these warm weather style training camps it has the desired impact. United came back raring to go after the Saudi trip last season and I don’t recall a United squad being better prepared in terms of fitness and tactics from the summer’s training camp just gone. The opening fifteen games of this season are testimony to that.
As we have achieved what we have so far we have perhaps forgotten we have been without United’s £65m record signing Alexander Isak, Allain Saint-Maximin and Jonjo Shelvey for most of the season so far. It is fair to say most of us would have expected all three to have contributed significantly barring their injuries.
Unless there are set-backs, those three players will be available to Howe and following a training camp out in Saudi over the forthcoming week, we can expect them to be available for selection when we face Bournemouth in the League Cup and indeed the Christmas-New Year period. I do suspect Howe wants to play Isak-Wilson-ASM in an attacking trio but to date I don’t think he’s even had two of them together on the pitch for any appreciable length of time.
It is something of a cliché but those three coming back will be like new signings and provide a huge boost. No player can afford to think they can coast it now (they never have under Howe but you get the picture) otherwise competition for places means they will lose their places.
Several respected journalists have reported that United are not desperate to recruit going into the transfer market this coming January. I certainly don’t think we’ll have a winter window like last year but neither do I think we’ll get to the end of the month without bringing in a couple of players in who will be ready for the first team squad. Whether they will be the young lads from Argentina (click here) and Brazil (click here) or players with greater seniority, I don’t know.
United have consistently stated they want to be active in every window and if we are going to improve the quality of the squad we will need to be.
That does mean we will need to move some players on of course and rumours have started about who they might be. Obviously whoever does go, will leave with our best wishes.
Indeed United find themselves in something of a dilemma given the start we have had to the season. Decisions have to be made about whether pushing the boat out in January to do everything possible to claim a Champions League place or stick to the plan, manage the risks of too many signings at the same time and keep building at the same pace. We’ll know what they decided at the end of January.
That’s not to forget the training camp in Saudi is about a lot more than just the football.
Newcastle United’s higher echelons as well as key executive staff will have decanted completely to the Middle East. It will likely be away from the media but I would expect the entire board led by Yasir al Rumayyan will meet with Dan Ashworth, Darren Eales and Eddie Howe to set the budget and priorities for the upcoming transfer window but there will be more too.
We have heard rumours about a new shirt sponsor and potential stadium naming rights being agreed in the Middle East. The latter makes me nervous but I’d hope we can get that right in a way which opens up a significant revenue stream without shitting on the identity and heritage of the club. I have seen Saudia Air mentioned and that wouldn’t come as a surprise after the sponsorship deal with United for the trip out to the Middle East as well as clocking the ad space they have taken during intervals during World Cup matches.
There may be others in scope too which have connections with Saudi Arabia but in the longer terms I hope we can expand our commercial operations to involve other markets.
Similarly, there have been whispers about a new merchandise deal. That couldn’t come quickly enough for me as I believe Castore fall way short in terms of quality, customer service or logistics to justify them having such a prestigious deal as they do with Newcastle United. If that was resolved in Saudi that would be a bonus too!
We are 14 months into the new ownership now and much has been achieved in all areas of Newcastle United’s operations. We may be on the verge of seeing things move up a notch again.
Have a great week.
Keep On, Keepin’ On …
Michael Martin, @TFMick1892