07 Mar Grounded Eddie Howe continues to prove why he is the best man to keep Newcastle in the Premier League
Following a multi-million pound Saudi-backed takeover towards the back end of last year, dreams of Newcastle United operating on a higher plane came thick and fast for supporters of the club.
Half-jokes about signing world-class players like Kylian Mbappe with a decorated supercoach at the helm – one brought in to oust the untrendy figure of Steve Bruce – soon became a potential reality as more news about the gravity and extent of the takeover emerged.
Had Newcastle been enjoying themselves in mid-table, with the potential of a European place on the agenda, the aforementioned dreams may indeed have become realised a little sooner. However, they weren’t; far from it in fact. This Newcastle side sat second-bottom of the table when Mike Ashley finally sold the club he had tormented for the last 14 years and were staring relegation square in the face.
A new manager was at the top of new chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan’s wishlist, with names like Unai Emery and Mauricio Pochettino bandied around as Steve Bruce’s potential successor. Indeed, the former was interviewed for the role and looked nailed on to get it, before a late turn of events saw the Spaniard take himself out of the running.
This left option B: Eddie Howe. An appointment that it’s fair to say gained little excitement when it was announced, the former Bournemouth manager has since transformed this Newcastle side into everything he is as a manager: an organised and reliable team capable of winning a relegation dogfight.
While Howe may be less likely to set the league alight with an innovative style of play exhibited by the likes of Jurgen Klopp or Pep Guardiola, it is worth remembering that the players at his disposal would be less likely to successfully implement it.
That is not a disrespect to this current crop of Newcastle players. Alongside some strong additions drafted in during the January window under Howe’s stewardship, the core of this Magpies squad is one which should not have found themselves in the relegation zone in the first place. The issue was largely down to a lack of direction under Bruce and certainly a lack of morale which naturally follows regular defeats.
What Howe has brought to Newcastle since his arrival in November is guidance and consistency. While it initially looked to have been an underwhelming appointment after the 44-year-old won just one of his opening 10 games in the hot seat, since the turn of the year things have improved ten-fold.
Newcastle haven’t lost a league game since December 19 and even that was against league leaders Manchester City in a match they were never expected to win. He has brought a much-needed calmness to this crop of players and is getting the best out of the likes of Joelinton – whose struggles at St. James’ Park has been well documented since his £40m move in 2019 – by moving him from the attack into central midfield, a decision that has revived the Brazilian’s career on Tyneside.
Jacob Murphy is performing well after being given a run in the side, as are Ryan Fraser and JonJo Shelvey – each of whom looked as though their careers at the club could’ve been coming to a potential end just six months ago. All of this is credit to Howe, whose pragmatism and groundedness has provided Newcastle – a club famed for its tumultuous relationship with the Premier League – with a hugely welcomed foundation to work off. Their job is not over and relegation is still a genuine threat, with only seven points separating them from the bottom three, but it certainly seems unlikely that Newcastle will fall victim to the drop should this group of talented players, who now have the guidance and confidence they have craved for so long, keep working as hard as they have been for the last three months.
That’s the most difficult part of football, but when you begin to master it then, as we’ve seen, the results will follow.