Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 23 October 2019

Five areas Newcastle United's next owner must address to revive the club

A look at the issues facing whoever eventually replaces Mike Ashley at St James' Park - starting with replacing Rafa Benitez

If Mike Ashley's reign as Newcastle supremo comes to an end over the summer, the next owner should be willing to spend more money in the transfer market, including signing Salomon Rondon, centre, to a permanent deal. Reuters
If Mike Ashley's reign as Newcastle supremo comes to an end over the summer, the next owner should be willing to spend more money in the transfer market, including signing Salomon Rondon, centre, to a permanent deal. Reuters

Emirati businessman Sheikh Khaled bin Zayed has become the latest name linked with a bid to buy Premier League side Newcastle United.

While there is still doubt on whether the deal will be completed, the situation has again put the focus on Mike Ashley's unpopular tenure of the club on Tyneside.

Ashley has owned the club since the summer of 2007 and has become an unpopular figure with Newcastle fans for how he has run it, particularly on transfer recruitment.

Here are five areas that any prospective new owner at St James' Park would have to look at if they are going to establish themselves back among the top sides in England's top flight again.

Rafael Benitez has been Newcastle United manager since March 2016.
Rafael Benitez has been Newcastle United manager since March 2016.

Keep Rafa Benitez

It is part of the quixotic way that Ashley has run Newcastle that an Uefa Champions League-winning manager’s contract has been allowed to run down.

Newcastle have run the risk of losing their greatest asset. Benitez’s deal is up at the end of June and talks are yet to result in an extension.

There is no doubt that the Spaniard wants an improved transfer budget and a change in the recruitment strategy.

Benitez also tends to want control.

Given his popularity with the fanbase, he is in a strong bargaining position, but any new powerbroker should be keen to keep him.

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - JANUARY 29: Newcastle forward Salomon Rondon celebrates after scoring the first Newcastle goal during the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Manchester City at St. James Park on January 29, 2019 in Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Newcastle forward Salomon Rondon has impressed in an on-loan spell. Getty

Change the transfer-market policy

Ashley did not become a billionaire by accident. A man who is forever looking for a profit has taken the same approach into football. Yet it has been a cause of frustration to managers that he is reluctant to buy players with a limited resale value.

He does not believe in the concept of a loss-leader or an ageing player who can improve the team.

Salomon Rondon, at 29, is a case in point. The excellent on-loan Venezuelan would cost £16.5 million (Dh76.8m). It is a deal Newcastle should do.

Benitez has also done well as a bargain hunter, getting defender Fabian Schar for just £3m and goalkeeper Martin Dubravka for a mere £4.5m, but he cannot keep finding fine players on the cheap.

When Newcastle bought Miguel Almiron in January, he replaced Michael Owen as their club-record signing. Owen joined in 2005. Mark Runnacles / Getty Images
When Newcastle bought Miguel Almiron in January, he replaced Michael Owen as their club-record signing. Owen joined in 2005.Getty

Show ambition to win the fans over

Long-suffering fans need something to celebrate. Newcastle’s wait for a trophy dates back to 1969. While Ashley has prioritised staying in the Premier League, it has felt Newcastle’s only aim was grim survival.

Some 64 other clubs have played in the last 16 of the FA Cup since they last did. A Cup run, even if not all the way, would be a sign of a new ethos and help restore a feelgood factor that was lost a decade ago.

Ambition can also be demonstrated in other ways. When Newcastle bought Miguel Almiron in January, he replaced Michael Owen as their club-record signing. Owen joined in 2005.

It is an indication of how everyone else outspent them. Even now, Bournemouth’s biggest buy is costlier than Newcastle’s.

Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley's tenure at the Premier League club has been unpopular since he took over in 2007. Reuters
Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley's tenure at the Premier League club has been unpopular since he took over in 2007. Reuters

Increase the revenue

There is a sense that Ashley has held Newcastle back. Attendances remain high, with an average of 51,121 this season, but Newcastle’s commercial revenue, which was £27.6m in 2005-06, was only £28m in 2017-18, partly because advertising hoardings have been given to Ashley’s Sports Direct company.

Perhaps that low figure also reflects Ashley’s unpopularity, but it also suggests that there is untapped potential, given the size and loyalty of the support.

Newcastle finished 13th last season in the Premier League, 12 points off seventh-placed Wolverhampton Wanderers. Getty
Newcastle finished 13th last season in the Premier League, 12 points off seventh-placed Wolverhampton Wanderers. Getty

Catch up with the best of the rest – and then the best

Benitez has done wonderfully to take Newcastle to 10th and 13th but, given their budget and calibre of players, they have been punching above their weight.

Ashley has taken the pragmatic view that it was not worth spending a fortune to go up a few places, but the problem is that a gulf may be emerging between the best of the rest – Wolverhampton Wanderers, Everton, Leicester City and West Ham United, all of whom have benefited from greater investment – and many of the bottom-half sides.

There is obviously a bigger gap to bridge from the next four to the top six and, since Leicester in 2016, no one has broken into that dominant group. It is no simple process.

Updated: May 28, 2019 03:24 PM

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