Picture the scenario: It’s October 2021 – just nine games into the Premier League season – and Newcastle United have decided to sack Mauricio Pochettino after the team failed to pick up a win in the last five games. The board felt that the Argentine was not able to build on the seventh-place finish of the previous season, and decided to terminate his contract after a drab 0-0 home draw with Brighton.
Immediately after the sacking, Rafa Benitez is linked with a return to the hot seat at St James Park, and Newcastle fans are buoyed at the prospect of seeing what Benitez can do with money to spend. Moreover, it is hoped that the Spaniard can get more out of summer signings, Anthony Martial and Lucas Vasquez, both of whom have had slow starts to their careers on Tyneside.
It’s not abundantly clear what will happen if and when Newcastle get new, wealthy owners, but it’s not outside the realms of possibility that something akin to the above will play out. The controversial takeover from a firm backed by the Saudi Arabian government has hit a few hiccups so far, but there seems to be a sense of inevitability that it will happen.
Leaving aside the ethical concerns of the takeover, where will it leave Newcastle in a footballing sense? The hope for Toon fans is that they will become another Manchester City, building a super squad from the largesse of wealthy owners. But a more pressing matter is this: Newcastle need to rebuild their identity.
The squad is full of journeymen
The club has made over 20 managerial appointments (including caretakers) during the Premier League era, and Benitez and Alan Pardew are the only managers to have taken charge of over 100 games (all comps) since the departure of Bobby Robson in 2004. Answers to questions like who are the Newcastle players with the most Premier League appearances, reveal the only current squad member in the top 35 is Paul Dummet. With all due respect to Dummet, a decent defender and a good servant to Newcastle, he’s not exactly an inspiring figure.
Over the last decade, Newcastle have lost much of what made them a likeable team for neutrals. While they might not wish to return to the cavalier days of Kevin Keegan’s reign, the Tyneside club seem to have fallen into an era of what can only be described as unremarkable.
Steve Bruce has performed well with current squad
While Steve Bruce has done a fine job in guiding Newcastle away from relegation danger this season, building a club’s identity is something of an abstract task, and it starts with having some conviction in both the manager and players. There is a prevailing feeling that Bruce is only ever a few games away from being sacked. If he is to be replaced in Newcastle’s new world, they must find someone that both the board and the success-starved supporters believe in to take the reins.
At the moment, Bruce oversees a bloated squad with 12 defenders and 11 midfielders listed as being part of the first team. That smacks of a lack of clear direction. Whether it’s with the riches of new owners or a new direction under Mike Ashley, there are plenty who would love to see this iconic club become many people’s favourite second team once again.
If a manager has the right backing, he will streamline the squad and if a board has confidence in the coach, it will allow him to bring in the right players. None of this seems to be the case at Newcastle. It’s a far fall from the heady days of Keegan and loving it “if we beat them.” And until that starts happening at St James’s Park, United will continue to be one of the Premier League’s least remarkable teams.