The last time I looked there is a 45-year-old semi-professional right-back in Burkina Faso who has not been linked with a move to Newcastle United this summer. He should speak to his agent because just about every other footballer on the planet appears to have been connected to a move to SJP in the last few weeks.

I’m exaggerating of course but to preserve what remains of my sanity I’ve decided to ignore most of it as self-serving noise. There are journalists who have covered United for many years who I take seriously as well as some national and international correspondents who are worth taking notice of but there is a whole swathe of the bloated football media which exists simply to generate clicks. Then there are the social media ITK wannabes pursuing internet fame for parroting rumour and speculation and wild guess work to gild a bizarre reputation.  I find it baffling.

Anyway, what did happen last week was the formal arrival of Dan Ashworth as Sporting Director at Newcastle United. Ashworth’s appointment is one of the most pivotal I’ve known in my time following the club (now over half a century – gulp). Ashworth brings with him a wealth of football knowledge and expertise drawn from his time with several clubs, most latterly Brighton, known as a very well-run and progressive outfit and of course with the FA.

If you haven’t seen Ashworth’s interview on NUFCTV, do yourself a favour and have a look. Indeed have a read of Ed Cole’s take on the interview – click here – which contains a link to the footage.

This is the kind of appointment we have needed for years, perhaps decades. The club has been painfully short of football expertise or the wherewithal to take advantage of what it has had (I can only imagine how painful it was for Graeme Carr to work for whoppers like Llambias, Charnley and Ashley himself). To think Joe Kinnear held the title of Director of Football. Jesus, we can laugh about it now but at the time it was terrible to paraphrase The Smiths. 

Clearly, Ashworth will have short, medium and longer term objectives. In the short term, he’ll be supporting United’s summer recruitment and medium term developing the club’s infrastructure around scouting, coaching and conditioning. In the longer term he will bring the club’s vision of developing the world class sporting facilities elite sports-people need to reality. It is to be hoped we have seen the last of Newcastle United players taking ice baths in wheelie bins.

Ashworth has been quick out the traps this last week by tying up the permanent deal of Matt Targett (total fee £15m) from Aston Villa. Matty was an important part of our post – January recovery which saw us move from relegation certs to finish eleventh and within touching distance of a finishing position in the top half of the table.

Targett isn’t the kind of eye-catching, glamorous signing some were expecting.  His arrival puts an end to the rumours linking us with Lodi from Atletico Madrid. But Targett is the right age for Howe’s reset of the first team squad, has experience of the PL, is proven to be a popular and valued member of the first team and hasn’t broken the bank. Perhaps the steady nature of his game suggests ASM is going nowhere because the Frenchman isn’t known for his graft and tracking back etc. By all accounts, Targett has no trouble fulfilling the club’s strict NO DICKHEADS policy.

There has been a lot of speculation regards who might be coming into the club this week but we should pay tribute to Isaac Hayden who left to join Norwich City. It has been gratifying to see the respect afforded to Hayden on his departure. Isaac gave his best for the club, was a serious committed professional and played a big part in getting us back to the Premier League under Rafa. He contributed greatly to the survival bids in staying up since then. It appears the respect we have for Hayden is reciprocated in the heartfelt words the midfielder has said on his departure. I’m sure there will be a warm reception for him whenever our paths cross again.

The less that can be said about Steve Bruce’s recent comments to 4-4-2 perhaps the better. Oh I can’t help it. Bruce is an abysmal manager. He has been in the game a long time but his ability to stay on board the merry-go-round of appointments is his only achievement. 11 or 12 jobs in just over 20 odd years distinguished by regular sackings, churlish comments to the media about fans (we’re only the latest)  and a lack of self-awareness that is truly astonishing.

I listened to TRUE FAITH’s own Charlotte Robson in conversation with Alex Hurst on a Patreon Podcast last week where I heard Bruce’s leadership credentials described as non-existent. A small point of concern was Charlotte’s obvious irritation rising to an unseen point where she implored the former Barrack Road bull-shitter to shut-the-fuck-up. I fear the impact of Steve Bruce’s management has dragged Charlotte down to the level of my own occasional colourful language.

Bruce is thankfully history now though I do half hope we can draw The Baggies in the League Cup next season and defenestrate what remains of his threadbare reputation. I bear no ill-will towards West Brom and I pick out the League Cup because it is inconceivable he’ll still be in the Hawthorn’s dug-out by the time the FAC 3rd round comes around. Expect Bruce to have picked up another compo cheque by then and filling the copy books of journalists with his own weird sense of grievance.

Anyway enough of that walloper.

Two players who can be taken seriously as potential targets are Sven Botman (Lille) and Hugo Etikite (Reims). Both players were in scope in January and it appears we have never lost sight of them.

I hasten to stress I have zero ITK gen but am cautiously optimistic about both players. Though I am prepared for a kick in the balls as well. That’s the price on the Newcastle United supporting ticket.

It says something of the pedigree of both players they have been chased by such great clubs as Serie A Champions and European football royalty, AC Milan and of course Borussia Dortmund respectively. The latter is a behemoth of German football. If we pull one or both of these deals off that is a major statement of intent.

It is frustrating we aren’t signing these players immediately (granted the window has only just opened) but I think this will be a feature of our business. We have a job of work selling the club’s project to high quality players who by their very nature have options and their contracts will be complex as agents push to get the best deals. I don’t have a problem with Botman perhaps wondering if his career would be best served in Italy with Milan as opposed to with us on Tyneside. For my entire life AC Milan has been one of the continent’s top clubs and looks to be regaining its position within Calcio whereas Newcastle United, well has been an also-ran but for some all too brief, precious interludes.

I can imagine how much easier it has been for Liverpool to persuade Nunez to make the switch to Liverpool – a club not dissimilar to AC Milan. We are selling a vision of what the future might hold which is obviously filled with risks as opposed to the likes of Liverpool who sell a reality.

That is what makes the capture of Trippier and Guimarães all the more remarkable back in January- two players who had options and could be playing Champions League football now.

Good players will attract more good players and over time I’d hope we were selling jam today as opposed tomorrow.

We are also going to bid farewell to some long-standing players and we all have opinions on who they are – probably not miles apart. My take is that we will sign new players before we release those now surplus to requirements.

That seems an eminently sensible approach and I wouldn’t be surprised if our business in the last weeks of the window is mainly outgoings.

*

Season tickets .. I know, I thank my lucky stars I didn’t chuck mine in and will concede I came mightily close. I left mine largely unused and just couldn’t work up the energy to go and match Bruce’s team go through the soul-destroying motions. If there was one positive (and I am seriously clutching at straws here) is Covid-19 removed the obligation to go trudge wearily into the stands on much of Bruce’s watch. It was bad enough watching on TV let alone having to leave the house and watch the bloody thing in the flesh.

But many good supporters could take no more and after lifetimes of following the club cancelled Direct Debits. Now everything has changed and United could sell another 15K on top of what we were under Rafa. I also hear the club has a c.400 waiting list for executive boxes. For an excellent piece looking at the club’s conundrum about extending SJP or relocating – click here.

In the short term there are thousands of Mags who want to get into SJP to see their team play. I can imagine the anxiety about getting inside SJP now the long awaited good times might be here.

I do take issue with some of the tone I read on social media regards those who chucked their season tickets under Ashley. These were heart-breaking decisions to make and let’s be honest, the subject of match boycotts was something that swirled around supporter discourse about Ashley. There was nothing more divisive and the cause of bitter recriminations between supporters. Believe me, it was very unpleasant. Sorry, you were there, you know. I would hate to see a version of that re-emerge amongst supporters.

Amongst those who could take no more were thousands of long-standing supporters and several I know have been fanatical followers of the club going back 30, 40 years+. It is offensive to read how those people are spoken about though with much of social media it would never make it to a real life situation. Maybe I’m getting mellow in my middle-age but an appreciation and empathy for fellow supporters goes a long way here.

United will need to set out what the plan is for season tickets as soon as possible. Since the take-over the new owners under Staveley and Ghodoussi have shown a deft touch for some eye-catching PR. But we now need some bread and butter supporter issues sorted and nowt matters more than getting in to see the match. It is a highly emotive issue but it can be helped with some clear communications from the top of the office at SJP.

I know this is on the agenda of the Newcastle United Supporters Trust and so will be about a dialogue to formalise supporter engagement as well as the appointment of Supporters Liaison Officers. This becomes more important by the week.

*

On a similar but unrelated topic I was pleased to see the PL’s commitment to pegging the price of tickets for visiting supporters at £30. This development did not come about by accident or by a sudden wave of altruism at PL HQ and its clubs in recent years.

Led by the FSA the Twenty’s Plenty campaign put substantial pressure on the PL and as something of an activist at the time I can confirm it was supported on the ground by Supporters Trusts, amongst which was NUST with Liverpool’s Spirit of Shankly, Everton’s Blue Union prominent in getting the message through that supporters did not have bottomless pockets. That collective action delivered a real positive outcome.

It is one of many reasons to join the Newcastle United Supporters Trust – click here

*

I’ll finish by again celebrating Dan Ashworth’s appointment but will query what is happening with a similarly much recruitment of a Chief Executive to lead the corporate development of the club. We saw last week that Fun 88 will continue to be the club’s shirt sponsor with the release of the new kit.

It has gone quiet on the sponsorship front so that will be one to follow to understand what is happening with something that will underpin the increasing power of Newcastle United as a competitive force in the PL and hopefully thereafter European football.

One to watch.

Thanks for reading – have a great week.

Keep On, Keepin’ On …

 Michael Martin @TFMick1892