Wednesday, April 10

Eddie Howe must prove Newcastle transfer tax was worth paying | Newcastle United

When Eddie Howe became Newcastle manager and was tasked with navigating a safe path to Premier League survival, he quickly realized that there were two distinct routes out of the relegation zone.

Both were dangerous, but one offered infinitely more scenic appeal and, ignoring some scary hairpin turns, Howe took it.

Instead of setting up Newcastle with three well-pierced defenders on low blocking and hoping a light-possession side would remain reasonably adept at scoring sneaky wins on the counter-attack, he decided to start creating a sweet-passing, ball-hogging XI. with the front foot. .

Rafael Benítez and, more recently, Steve Bruce may have escaped a series of relegation skirmishes by playing with the handbrake on, but the former Bournemouth manager was determined to channel his inner Kevin Keegan and do things the right way. different.

It helped that, unlike Benitez – still adored on Tyneside – and Bruce, he wasn’t working for a penny-pinching owner in the mold of Mike Ashley, but for extraordinarily wealthy Saudi overlords determined to make the club the centerpiece success of a broader exercise in the application of image-altering geopolitical soft power or, as some see it, sportswashing.

The only problem was that Howe didn’t possess enough players suitable for his model, won just two of his 11 games since taking over from Steve Bruce and now needs his nearly £90m transfer market spend to pay dividends.

All that matters now is whether Bruno Guimarães, Kieran Trippier, Chris Wood, Dan Burn and the borrowed Matt Targett can ensure Howe succeeds where Bruce, Steve McClaren and Alan Pardew failed, to a greater or lesser extent.

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Despite working with very different sets of players, the common denominator between those three managers is that, every time they tried to take away from Newcastle the counterattacking that, for more than a decade, has been the team’s default style, they ran into trouble. important.

Chris Wood (left) and Kieran Trippier, two of Newcastle's January signings.
Chris Wood (left) and Kieran Trippier, two of Newcastle’s January signings. Photograph: Serena Taylor/Newcastle United/Getty Images

Benítez, aware that he lacked the necessary midfielders to create, control and sustain a passing rhythm, did not even try, preferring to fine-tune the team’s ability at half-time.

Howe finally has a choreographer capable of becoming the cornerstone on which to base the rebuilding of Newcastle. Brazilian Guimarães, a dynamic defensive midfielder, has signed from Lyon for an initial fee of around £35m and the speed of the 24-year-old’s adaptation to English football will very possibly determine if and when Newcastle will escape the bottom three. .

Guimarães, often described as a “complete midfielder”, honed his craft on futsal pitches, rarely losing possession and adapting to retain it in the most difficult spots. Much has been made, rightly so, that Newcastle’s main weakness is central defence, but a big part of the problem has been the lack of a quasi-Libero protective anchor midfield.

Guimarães isn’t dubbed the “Bearer of the Piano” for nothing and his application skills could still make Jamaal Lascelles and company look infinitely better than they have often appeared this season.

Much, however, hinges as much on how Howe’s new boys adjust as on how those club stalwarts Bruce privately claimed Benitez had been “brainwashed” into adopting a cautious counter-attacking mentality and adjusting. to the change in management’s vision.

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The face change in recruiting philosophy has been even more radical. It’s impossible to imagine Ashley spending £25m on Wood, 30, £13m on Burn, 29, and a fee that could rise to £15m for Trippier, 31.

Ashley was always reluctant to acquire players over the age of 25 due to their lack of resale potential, but this policy frequently left the team with little experience and leadership and Newcastle were relegated twice under his watch.

If survival is assured, the Saudis will claim, justifiably, that it was worth paying the so-called “Newcastle tax” to Burnley, Brighton and Atletico Madrid.

Although Burn has been regularly rotated at Brighton, he has been in the form of his career recently and the 6ft 7in Newcastle fan may be one of this month’s most inspired purchases, helping ease Howe’s pain at missing his first-choice defensive targets, Lille’s Sven Botman and Sevilla’s Diego Carlos.

Newcastle couldn't get Jesse Lingard away from Manchester United.
Newcastle couldn’t get Jesse Lingard away from Manchester United. Photograph: Gareth Copley/Getty Images

However, if Wood provides essential attacking cover for the injured Callum Wilson, Newcastle’s main striker, while also weakening Burnley, Howe might still have reason to sigh for the two game-changing strikers who slipped away, namely, exciting Reims teenager Hugo Ekitike and Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard. .

Trippier, a right-back who still harbors ambitions in England, already looks like a future Newcastle captain; Which raises the question of the potential effect on the team’s ecosystem if Howe were to drop bracelet holder Lascelles to make room for Burn. Since Lascelles can be quite energetic, the manager may need to locate his inner diplomat.

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On the left sideline, Targett should offer the kind of width and crossovers Howe craves. His presence also creates competition in an overcrowded team, but the manager’s challenge now is to ensure that a decent team on paper scores points on the field.

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If not, he will surely lose his beauty contest with Watford’s Roy Hodgson, Burnley’s Sean Dyche, Norwich’s Dean Smith, Everton’s Frank Lampard et al and Benitez’s name may be mentioned again as the solution to Newcastle’s problems.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the next few months could make or break Howe’s career.

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