Newcastle United are back in the Champions League for the first time in 20 years, 18 months after a Saudi Arabia-backed consortium bought out unpopular owner Mike Ashley.
In October 2021, Newcastle were losing another relegation battle until Eddie Howe came in to replace Steve Bruce as manager, and steered the club to safety, before finishing fourth for the year.
How did the club transform so dramatically? BBC Sport is looking into the main causes.
Training – “Intensity is our identity”
One motto – “Intensity is our identity” – adorns the walls at Newcastle’s training base.
When Howe arrived at the club, a number of the senior players thought they were unfit for the match. The 45-year-old has changed the schedule from the moment he arrived, reducing days off, bringing sessions to an earlier start time, and setting an example by regularly showing up for work at 6am. Players soon reported being “smashed” after practice.
Howe educated himself after leaving his former club Bournemouth in 2020, following a number of football and rugby clubs including Atlético Madrid and Sarsens. He also uploaded all of his workouts to a digital format for maximum efficiency.
During the interview process for the job, he was second choice to Unai Emery, who turned down Newcastle in order to stay with Villarreal before eventually joining Aston Villa. But Howe really liked the details of his pitch, which included a plan for individual players to help them evolve. One of those mentioned at the time was Jolinton, the club’s record signing.
The Brazilian’s position has never been questioned. His physical abilities and work rate were tools Howe used to transform him from an inept striker into a combative midfielder.
The tactical instructions were simple for each player, as some felt their Newcastle careers were over before Howe entered, and were reinforced every day. His methods were meticulous in detail but paid off because the players understood the simplicity of his plan and stuck to it.
Sean Longstaff is one of the strongest examples of Howe’s work on improving players; Ahead of the Carabao Cup final, the midfielder said Howe saved his club career, and there was a time when a move to Everton, to join former boss Rafael Benitez, was close.
To improve matters further, the club has invested in upgrading the training ground, with a new dining room and a building housing a hydrotherapy pool and changing rooms.
Other additions include a tennis court and artificial pitches, while plans are drawn up for a new base and a ground search is in progress.
Recruitment – a thoughtful approach
Prior to the arrival of Director of Football Dan Ashworth in June, minority shareholders Amanda Staveley, Mehrdad Godosi and Jamie Rubin worked alongside head of hiring Steve Nixon and Howe. Reinforcements were needed to help try to survive the Premier League in January 2022.
Although the club’s available transfer budget has improved since the takeover, personality and a willingness to put the team first are the two most important factors in any deal.
Howe mainly focused on bringing in Premier League or Premier League players, including Dan Burn from Brighton, Matt Targett, initially on loan from Aston Villa, and Burnley striker Chris Wood and Kieran Trippier from Atlético Madrid, whom he had previously worked with at Turf. Moore.
The seeds of this move were woven when Howe watched the Spanish club train months earlier and was then told by the England defender of his desire to move closer to home for family reasons.
Nixon had already scoured Europe looking for the best talent he could find. Dutch centre-back Sven Putman was mentioned in early encounters but wasn’t lured out of Lille until the summer, along with Nick Pope and Alexander Isak.
Instead, Lyon’s Brazil international Bruno Guimaraes, a creative midfielder, arrived late in the first window, citing the club’s ambition as the reason he chose Tyneside over a number of other options.
Nobody, including Trippier and Guimaraes, had relegation clauses in their contracts, nor did they break the club’s wage structure, with the former taking a pay cut.
The sale of the project — backed by plenty of money — helped steal a rally against competitors, but there was also an element of gambling, too. Everyone needs to buy in.
When he signed Swedish striker Isak, then 22, from Real Sociedad for £63m, some at the top tier questioned whether he was worth spending in a regular season, when he scored six goals in 32 appearances.
At first the deal went quiet but both parties realized they shared each other’s potential and he now acted as a blueprint for future signings.
Tactics (including mastering the “dark arts”)
Howe had been questioned about his defensive record at Bournemouth, who were relegated in their last season with them, but this season Newcastle conceded the fewest goals in the league with Manchester City.
Nine consecutive clean sheets earlier in the season was evidence of Howe’s defensive development, and he moved away from the 4-4-2 formation, which he favored on the south coast, to a more proactive 4-3-3 with the wingers turned.
Guimaraes dictate the play from deep, but Newcastle also use effective counter-pressing, massing teams with new intensity. This allows the defense to play a fine line although neither Putman nor fellow centre-back Fabian Schar have great pace.
Done right, Newcastle’s approach prevents teams from turning them over, but the space behind the defense is covered by Bob. If teams attack the box, every defender, with the exception of Trippier, stands over 6 feet (1.8 m) tall, making it difficult for them to exploit.
There has been a concerted effort within the club to become wiser and ‘manage the game’ more. Howe publicly downplayed the similarities to Atlético, but the dressing room relished the response they received from some opponents, with the “dark arts” considered crucial if they were to succeed at the top level.
“We’re not here to be popular and to make other teams like us,” Howe said in January after the goalless draw with Arsenal. “We are here to compete.”
Synergy – a united city
Fans have felt largely ignored during the Ashley years, with a previously established supporters’ forum meeting three years prior to the takeover.
In 2020, when the deal initially stalled over questions about the piracy of Qatar-based beIN Sports’ Premier League coverage in Saudi Arabia, Staveley contacted the Newcastle United Supporters’ Trust (NUST) to reaffirm its commitment to buying the club.
In April last year, the club and the trust met again to discuss an engagement. A full time Supportive Communication department has been set up and there are fan board discussions as well.
Wor Flags, a fan organization responsible for displaying cool banners at home matches, have been in attendance since the change of ownership, after stopping for the last two years of Ashley’s ownership, while club legends are welcomed to talks about ambassadorial roles.
The way Howe integrated these players into the first-team setting was also crucial.
Experienced winger Matt Ritchie has played just seven league games this season but remains in the senior leadership group alongside Trippier, Bourne, Callum Wilson and club captain Jamaal Lascelles and Newcastle are keen to land him a new deal when his current contract expires this summer.
The future – what’s next?
Newcastle have shortlisted targets and are looking for quality over quantity, with four or five recruits this summer being seen as an ideal number. They are not going to break the existing financial structures, and I had meetings on the budget last week.
The deep-lying midfielder is high on their priority list, and sources in England and France suggest that interest in Kbern Thuram at Nice is genuine. Leicester’s James Maddison, whose bids were rejected by Newcastle last summer, continues to be admired.
Financial fair play will be a factor in your summer planning. Newcastle have spent a lot of money without making up much over the past three windows and they need to be smart sellers if they want to avoid breaking any rules.
Allan Saint-Maximin is a potential transfer asset for a decent fee; The Frenchman has started 11 league games this season and there is a feeling it might be the right time to capitalize on him.
Loan players, including Isaac Hayden and Jeff Hendrick, will be transferred, but there is a desire to retain the experience provided by goalkeeper Martin Dubravka and defender Paul Dummett, while the club is keen to link Guimarães to a new deal.
The club is now several years ahead of what they had expected, but will have to adapt to new expectations and keep pushing if they are to achieve the success they are aiming for.