The Premier League has seen the third potentially game-changing club takeover in its history.
After Roman Abramovich at Chelsea and Sheikh Mansour at Manchester City, we now have PIF at Newcastle United. Whether or not the takeover should have been allowed to happen, and the human rights concerns involved, is a conversation for another time and place.
Looking at things on the pitch one thing is obvious: Newcastle will want to win and now they have the money to make it happen. But can they learn lessons from the way Chelsea and City went about their business in order to make a success of it sooner rather than later?
Chelsea, for a start, spent absolutely staggering sums to revamp the first team when Abramovich arrived. Adjusting for inflation in Premier League (and indeed European football) transfers, their approach is not even comparable to Man City’s.
If we’re asking which path Newcastle FC should follow, they are much closer to Man City.
Chelsea had finished in the top six, though never higher than third (and only that high once) in each of the seven seasons before Abramovich arrived at Stamford Bridge. They were a very good, but not great, team with a solid claim on “the best of the rest” title behind Manchester United and Arsenal.
Pre-takeover, Manchester City had spent six successive seasons in the Premier League. They finished in the top half three times, though never higher than eighth, and never higher than 14th in the other three.
Like Newcastle, they weren’t taken over with much chance of a summer spree. It was August 2008, a week before the new season started, when Man City’s new owners arrived. It didn’t allow time for much but they did at least manage to take over in the summer and bring in Robinho. His acquisition helped them improve to 9th from 14th the previous campaign.
Another similarity to Newcastle’s situation was the top of the table hegemony at the time. City looked to compete in an era of four dominant sides — Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Man Utd — who all entered the Champions League group stages in the autumns of 2004 through 2010.
More recently, four of the last six CL campaigns have kicked off with each of Chelsea, Liverpool, Man City and Manchester United taking part. This is the party Newcastle FC wants to gatecrash.
Adjusted for inflation in the Premier League, and looking at transfers up until 2017, Chelsea paid 10 of the 20 most expensive transfer fees in the league’s history. Man City accounts for just one (Sergio Agüero). The franchise has instead looked to sign top players across multiple positions, rather than lumping bigger sums on star names.
Newcastle needs do the same. One big name for their profile, like Robinho at Man City, would make sense and wouldn’t come as a great surprise. But spending £100 million on a single player and then being handcuffed by Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations wouldn’t be sensible. If Newcastle are to spend, say, £250 million over the next round of transfer windows, then they need to spread that across the squad.
In the summer of 2009, having finished 10th, City brought in forwards Carlos Tevez, Emmanuel Adebayor, and Roque Santa Cruz, plus centre-back Joleon Lescott, all for between £20 million-£30 million each. For £10 million-15 million apiece, they added defender Kolo Touré and midfielder Gareth Barry.
Santa Cruz was a flop. Adebayor shone brightly, but not for long. Lescott took time to get going. But even if you want to exclude them as successes (nobody would deny that Lescott paid off in the long-term) City still managed to improve across three key positions in one summer.
That is the way for Newcastle to go. It’s obviously enticing to think they might sign big names like Philippe Coutinho or Eden Hazard, or even Paul Pogba or Erling Haaland. However, before even considering how realistic some of those deals are, it isn’t the way to improve the team and set them up for success in a few years.
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The better approach – the smarter approach – is what City did. Newcastle can do it better by recruiting to a particular plan, something City didn’t truly do, and targeting younger players, no busted flushes, who are out of favour at massive clubs or the stars at mid-table clubs. In both the Premier League and beyond.
Man City also set the blueprint for managers, at least for now. Newcastle needs a plan and a plan needs stability. At City, the owners have picked their managers well and never rushed to replace them. Mark Hughes was appointed shortly before the takeover and given one-and-a-half seasons before he was fired. Roberto Mancini came in and lasted three-and-a-half seasons.
Manuel Pellegrini then took charge for three seasons before Pep Guardiola, currently in his sixth campaign, arrived. Every manager appointed by the owners has won at least one Premier League title. Chelsea’s more trigger-happy approach has worked at Stamford Bridge but only after the club had established itself as one of the best in the country.
So the answer for Newcastle FC, really, is simple. Carefully choose a manager, give him time, and look to supply him with six or seven or even eight good new players, improvements on those at the club already, without veering into the temptation to just spend big on a couple of big names. The current Premier League holders have shown them the way and that is the blueprint to follow.