Johnny Phillips: Toon’s billions mean little without a plan for success

The coverage of Newcastle United’s change of ownership has already reached saturation point but do not expect the spotlight on St James’ Park to dim any time soon.

Legendary Wolves goalkeeper
 Phil Parkes, left, with his
old pal Bruce Grobbelaar at
 the tribute dinner at Molineux
Legendary Wolves goalkeeper Phil Parkes, left, with his old pal Bruce Grobbelaar at the tribute dinner at Molineux

Since Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund took a controlling 80-per-cent stake in the Tyneside club, bringing an end to Mike Ashley’s 14-year tenure, barely a day has passed without comment.

Many other Premier League clubs are unnerved by the takeover.

The extraordinary wealth of PIF, reportedly in the region of £320billion, smothers the riches of the rest of the Premier League owners.

The next closest are Manchester City, backed by Sheikh Mansour’s £23.3bn fortune.

Not a ball has been kicked since PIF took control of Newcastle, with a £300million buy-out, but already Premier League owners are getting jittery and making their feelings known.

“Clubs like Newcastle or Manchester City, owned and controlled by sovereign funds, they have unlimited possibilities,” said Leeds Andrea Radrizzani, this week.

“That’s why I believe the Premier League should apply fair-play regulation to make sure we play fair, we play in the same competition with similar opportunities.”

Financial Fair Play. There’s a thought. Whatever the governing bodies’ attempts are to make it a level playing field, the only real competition appears to be among the clubs looking for the most creative ways to get around FFP.

There is no meaningful financial fair play in today’s elite football and those with the most money generally come out on top.

This week Barcelona extended the contract of their young star Pedri until 2026. The deal has a one billion euro release clause inserted.

It is an unimaginable sum of money to pay for a single footballer. But there is now an owner out there who could afford it.

Newcastle are not going to be plucking star players from around the world any time soon, but that is the ultimate aim. Even with their new-found wealth it is hard to imagine the squad ever being filled with the league’s best players, but money tends to change everything.

When Manchester City won the title in 2011/12 with Sergio Aguero, Vincent Kompany, Carlos Tevez, Yaya Toure and co, they had assembled the best team in the country.

Yet just 10 years earlier City had been a Championship club. Over a relatively short space of time they replaced Kevin Horlock, Richard Dunne, Shaun Goater, Nicky Weaver and Danny Tiatto and brought in a different standard of footballer altogether.

Could Newcastle attract the big names to mount a title challenge? To an extent, they have done it before. Kevin Keegan’s entertainers of the mid-1990s had the likes of David Ginola, Faustino Asprilla and Les Ferdinand in their number. But more recently they have struggled to attract top players.

Partly this has been down to the way the club was run under Ashley, but there has also been pushback from the players.

Yohan Cabaye was the last top-class player on Newcastle’s books but the club could not satisfy the French midfielder’s ambitions. He left for Paris St Germain in 2014. Fair enough, but a year-and-a-half later he was back in England with Crystal Palace.

Newcastle has not been a destination for the game’s great players for many years. Under PIF’s ownership this has to change.

And the rest of the Premier League are concerned because with the sums of money available the rule book could be ripped up.

What is to stop the club building a second training ground in the London area?

They will surely do whatever it takes to attract the top players.

It might sound far-fetched now but, in 10 years’ time, where will PIF’s billions have taken the club? What will be the norm?

There are no guarantees, though. What must be put in place is a structure that can be successful.

The footage released on Newcastle’s own club media platforms of Amanda Staveley and Mehrdad Ghodoussi introducing themselves to the squad’s players at the training ground this week does not sit well, particularly when there is so much talk about the future of manager Steve Bruce, which has been fuelled by the new owners’ non-committal responses to questions about the manager.

It is one thing buying a football club, it is another thing entirely knowing what to do with it.

Amid all the euphoria on the Tyneside, the delirious supporters swigging from cans of lager in the street and playing up to the stereotype last week, there will be a few who are not sure about all this – and that is without even considering the source of the new-found wealth, which is another story altogether.

There is every likelihood that the team continues to drift in the Premier League through to January.

There is no worse time to spend money than in the mid-season window.

So any suggestion that the club has immediately been saved from Ashley’s clutches may take longer to bear fruit. Newcastle might be back in the Championship before planning title challenges.

The PIF takeover has changed the landscape of English football.

The word circus has been used already and football fans across the land will have ringside seats to the show.

It will be a fascinating and perhaps an uneasy watch.

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