The team’s form is disastrous. But, for once, it matters little. There is a bigger picture at hand. What the Toon Army can not bear is the idea of missing the chance to see owner Mike Ashley walk away from their beloved club after a miserable decade in charge.
Two Championship titles and a Europa League campaign are all the controversial Sports Direct bigwig has to show for his tenure. But that finally looks to be coming to an end with the news Amanda Staveley’s takeover is moving towards completion at long last.
With that in mind, we’ve taken a look at the five things which must happen at St James’ Park if and when the long-awaited takeover is finally completed.
1. Tie Rafa Benítez to a new deal
According to reports, the deal between Staveley and Ashley partially hinges on Benítez remaining in charge. That is understandable. It was a coup when Newcastle persuaded the former Champions League winner to move to St James’ Park in 2016, not least because he had started the campaign at Real Madrid.
The esteem in which the ex-Liverpool and Chelsea coach is held is underlined by the fact Benítez is yet to come under pressure or face noticeable criticism from Newcastle supporters for the team’s worrying nosedive in form.
At almost any other club fans would be calling for the Spaniard’s head, but the feeling is Benítez’s hands are tied by Ashley’s refusal to back him in the transfer window and he is doing the best he can with the available resources.
Benítez is revered by Magpies fans and the first thing Staveley and PCP Capital Partners should do when the deal is ratified is offer the 57-year-old a new long-term contract.
Not only will that be met with approval by the club’s supporters, it will show the ambition and commitment of the new regime to a top-class manager, creating the kind of stability United have been without for at least a decade.
2. Sign a proper No.9
Newcastle were crying out for a proven Premier League goalscorer in the summer. Although Benítez brought Dwight Gayle to St James’ Park in the summer of 2016, he clearly felt the forward’s limit was the Championship.
Gayle rewarded his manager with 23 goals in 26 starts, firing Newcastle to the title, but was a Fulham transfer target in the summer and almost left Tyneside on deadline day.
A centre-forward who could keep Newcastle up was top of Benítez’s list of priorities but Ashley – not for the first time – failed to deliver what his manager needed.
In the end, Newcastle moved for the budget option: Stoke City flop Joselu. The Spaniard had started just ten Premier League games in two season at the Potteries – scoring four times – but at a mere £5million he fitted Ashley’s criteria. He was cheap and his form has reflected that with just three league goals in 14 starts.
The cliché which is trotted out more than most in relation to Newcastle is that their supporters appreciate a proper No.9 more than any other club’s fans. That is debatable. But there is no doubt they are crying out for a talismanic figure to lead the line and pin their hopes to.
3. Sign an undisputed first-choice keeper
If the situation surrounding Newcastle’s striking department is a mess, than there isn’t an adjective strong enough to label the goalkeepers.
Former Nottingham Forest prodigy Karl Darlow became de facto No.1 last term after summer signing Matz Sels flattered to deceive. But the 27-year-old had clearly not been Benítez’s first choice between the sticks and he looked set to depart over the summer.
There was plenty of conjecture between the end of last term and the start of this as to who would start in goal for United. In the end, the experienced Rob Elliot got the job but, again, the vibe given off by Benítez was that this was an unsatisfactory resolution.
The Republic of Ireland international did not take his chance, though, and was dropped for four matches in November and December before reclaiming his place for Saturday’s 1-0 loss at Arsenal.
4. Communicate with the fans
Football club owners tend to fit into two brackets: The megalomaniac who can’t stay off Twitter and has his own column on the club website. Or the mysterious, silent type who never communicates with his subjects and is rarely seen at games.
It’s fair to say Ashley fits into the latter category and that is one of the biggest downfalls of his reign.
Given his record for public addresses during his Newcastle tenure, perhaps it is for the best he has been largely silent. His feature-length interview with Sky Sports on the club’s return to the Premier League was a disaster as he admitted he’d been too hasty to sack previous bosses, made bad decisions and not backed Benítez sufficiently while imploring the next owner to do so.
Prior to that the last we heard from the Magpies’ owner was that he would stay on Tyneside until the club won a trophy or got into the Champions League. It was unwelcome news and, on this occasion, something fans will be glad he reneged on.
So the message to Newcastle’s prospective owners is simple: speak to the supporters. As telecommunications company BT once opined, it’s good to talk.
5. Give Newcastle fans their club back
If it wasn’t already enough of an insult that Ashley refused to back his managers or communicate with the club’s supporters, he overstepped the mark completely by re-branding their iconic St James’ Park home as the ‘Sports Direct Arena’ and plastering logos for the sportswear giant all over the ground.
That was not an isolated incident of Ashley trampling all over the club’s traditions and heritage, though. Far from it. He renamed ‘Shearer’s’, the bar outside the stadium named in homage of the iconic striker, following a falling out with the Geordie goal-getter.
The feud between Ashley and Shearer also resulted in a bronze statue of the club’s legendary former No.9 being kiboshed before former owner Freddie Shepherd stumped up £250,000 to see it completed nine years after it was commissioned.
It is thoughtless, spiteful acts like that which make an already unpopular owner public enemy No.1 on Tyneside. They aren’t decisions which will affect revenue, improve the team or have any tangible impact. But they make a difference to the fans.
If Staveley and co. are to make a success of Newcastle there is a handy how to guide already available . Simply see what Ashley did and do the opposite.