What has gone wrong for Saudi-backed Newcastle?

What has gone wrong for Saudi-backed Newcastle?

March 29, 2024 at 2:30 AM
Newcastle's rise under the ownership of the Saudi sovereign wealth fund has stalled this season.
Newcastle's rise under the ownership of the Saudi sovereign wealth fund has stalled this season.. Photo: Darren Staples / AFP
Source: AFP

Newcastle enjoyed a meteoric rise during the first 18 months of their new era under the control of the Saudi sovereign wealth fund but the Magpies' progress has stalled this season.

Eddie Howe's men are languishing in 10th place in the Premier League with 10 games to go and any hope of the club's first major trophy since 1969 is over for another year.

AFP Sport looks at what has gone wrong on Tyneside.

Rules limit spending

In a season in which the Premier League's profit and sustainability rules (PSR) have begun to bite, few clubs have been as affected as Newcastle.

In stark contrast to the early days of Abu Dhabi's huge investment at English champions Manchester City, Newcastle have been limited on how heavily they can lean on their new-found wealth from the Gulf.

Despite qualifying for the Champions League for the first time in 20 years, Newcastle still had to tread a fine line to avoid exceeding PSR after spending more than £250 million ($315 million) in the first three transfer windows under the new ownership.

Chief executive Darren Eales has admitted they may even need to sell one of their prized assets in the summer if they are to invest again in the squad, with Bruno Guimaraes and Alexander Isak among those linked with moves away.

"If we're going to get to where we want to get to, at times it is necessary to trade your players," Eales said after the club posted a £73 million loss for the 2022/2023 season.

Injuries and suspensions

Sandro Tonali was banned for eight months due to betting breaches during his time at AC Milan
Sandro Tonali was banned for eight months due to betting breaches during his time at AC Milan. Photo: Oli SCARFF / AFP
Source: AFP

To compound their problems with PSR, Newcastle have reaped little reward from their outlay of more than £100 million in the 2023 summer transfer window.

Most of the transfer budget was splashed on Italian international Sandro Tonali, but he only played 12 games for the club before being hit with an eight-month ban for betting offences during his time with AC Milan.

Another major signing, Harvey Barnes, has been one of a host of key players who have spent months on the sidelines due to injury.

England internationals Nick Pope and Callum Wilson have missed chunks of the campaign, while Joelinton and Sven Botman will be absent for the rest of the season.

Newcastle's season came off the rails during a gruelling December and January period as injuries mounted.

Howe's men lost eight times in 10 games as they exited the Champions League at the group stage, lost a League Cup quarter-final to Chelsea on penalties and sank down the Premier League table.

Tough draws

Fortune has definitely not favoured Newcastle in the cup competitions.

They finished bottom of a competitive Champions League group featuring quarter-finalists Paris Saint-Germain and Borussia Dortmund, as well as seven-time European champions AC Milan.

In the League Cup they eventually succumbed at Stamford Bridge after beating both Manchester City and Manchester United in the early rounds.

A quest for FA Cup glory was ended by a 2-0 defeat at City.

Ashworth uncertainty

Of more long-term concern Newcastle is the loss of sporting director Dan Ashworth.

The 53-year-old is on gardening leave awaiting the green light to join Manchester United after being head-hunted by Jim Ratcliffe's new regime at Old Trafford.

Howe has expressed concern at what Ashworth's exit will mean for his side's plans in the transfer market.

Has Howe hit a ceiling?

Newcastle manager Eddie Howe has never won a major trophy
Newcastle manager Eddie Howe has never won a major trophy. Photo: Adrian DENNIS / AFP
Source: AFP

The future of the manager is also in doubt, with rumours circulating that Jose Mourinho is keen on a return to the Premier League at St James' Park.

Mourinho has been seen meeting Newcastle chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the governor of Saudi's Public Investment Fund, during a recent trip to the kingdom to take in high-profile sporting events.

Howe has been hugely popular among Newcastle fans for leading the club away from a relegation battle and into the Premier League's top four.

But he lacks the trophy-laden CV that the Saudis may seek for the next phase of their project in England's north-east.

AFP photo