Newcastle United enter their first transfer window under new ownership, and as a result there is an optimism to start 2022 that defies the Magpies current league position.
A $400 million Saudi-led takeover was finally concluded in October following a protracted and pain-staking 18-month battle with the Premier League to get the deal approved.
With a net worth of $433 billion, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) now own 80% of Newcastle, making the club on paper the richest in world soccer. That doesn’t automatically translate to mass spending, but there is an understandable excitement and anticipation on Tyneside as the January transfer window opens.
Minority owner Amanda Staveley says Newcastle have “worked tirelessly” to prepare for it — music to manager Eddie Howe’s ears, who desperately needs to strengthen his side to start 2022.
Newcastle enter the halfway-stage of the season second-bottom on just 11 points, with their sole win coming against fellow strugglers Burnley on December 4.
After a 2-0 defeat at Arsenal in November, the Magpies had just seven points — and no Premier League side has gone on to stay up when on that tally after 13 games.
Despite a 4-0 home loss to Manchester City on December 19, Newcastle did avoid the dreaded curse of being bottom on Christmas Day, though… but only on goal difference. They had the same 10-point total as 20th-placed Norwich, so the fact only West Bromwich Albion (2004-05), Sunderland (2013-14) and Leicester City (2014-15) have stayed up when at the foot of the table on December 25 still underlines the tall task Howe faces.
Last season just 29 points was needed to avoid the drop, but it’s likely a minimum of 32 will be required to stand a chance of avoiding the Championship trapdoor this campaign. As other clubs curb their spending due to the pandemic, Newcastle are tipped to move quickly and decisively in the market, and will surely gain an advantage over their relegation rivals by spending more than most this January.
CBS Sports understands the club have budgeted $100 million on transfers and also plan to offload at least three players in order to keep their squad size at the Premier League-mandated 25. Jeff Hendrick, Ciaran Clark and Dwight Gayle are all expected to depart.
With this in mind, we take a look at who is top of Newcastle’s wish list and how likely they are to land their targets.
Most likely signing: Kieran Trippier
Newcastle are already in advanced talks with Atletico Madrid and England right-back Kieran Trippier. The 31-year-old won La Liga last season and is keen to move back to the Premier League. He also knows Howe, as he was on loan at Burnley in 2011-12 when Howe was the manager.
Trippier has already been approached and a formal offer is likely to be tabled in the first week of January. The ex-Tottenham defender has a $35 million release clause and his arrival would be a real statement of intent from Newcastle’s owners. Trippier’s form has dipped a little in 2021-22, and he’s been sidelined for five weeks with a shoulder injury, but he would clearly bring quality, Premier League knowhow and fit neatly into Howe’s preferred 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 system.
Newcastle face two challenges in getting the deal over the line: persuading Trippier to join now with relegation looming and convincing Atleti to sell before the summer. Trippier will inevitably insert a relegation-release clause if he moves in January and that should be enough peace of mind to secure his signature this month. Meanwhile Atleti are keeping close taps on Leicester’s Ricardo Pereira and Lille’s Zeki Celik (who they almost signed in August). The fact the Spanish champions are seriously scouting Trippier replacements shows their willingness to sell him.
Most wanted signing: Sven Botman
Newcastle’s owners desperately want to sign Lille’s Sven Botman — and the good news for them is the talented 21-year-old is open to joining a Premier League club. Center backs are probably the position Newcastle must strengthen in the most, while Dutch talent Botman also fits into a longer-term strategy.
Howe is tasked with lowering the average age of the side — which at 28.5 is the second-oldest in the Premier League behind only Burnley (30.1) and adding players who can get Newcastle challenging for the top six and beyond.
This is a grand (and slightly ridiculous) goal to be thinking about now with the side so at risk of Championship football next season, but smart recruitment always focuses on the future as well as the present. Plus, Botman is the type of player born for a relegation fight.
The former Jong Ajax defender, who won Ligue 1 last season, is a smart, technical and loves an aerial duel. He tends to win them, too, averaging close to a 75% success-rate since 19-20. Milan are also looking at Botman as a replacement for Simon Kjaer, but the $35 million fee Lille will demand could price them out the market. The fact Botman is under contract until 2025 means he won’t come cheap.
Most urgent target: Alfredo Morelos
Newcastle have had to change their priorities and focus on finding a striker after forward Callum Wilson and winger Allan Saint-Maximin both suffered calf injuries in the spirited 1-1 draw with Manchester United on December 27. Saint-Maximin should be back for the crucial home game against fourth-bottom Watford on January 15, but Wilson faces a few months on the sidelines. It’s a huge blow considering he has scored six of Newcastle’s 19 Premier League goals to date.
The ideal addition is Rangers’ in-form Colombian forward Alfredo Morelos. The 25-year-old has scored 107 goals since moving to Glasgow for a bargain fee of $1.35 million from HJK Helsinki in 2017. Morelos has 13 goals and four assists in all competitions in 2021-22 and looks far more settled under new manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst. Steven Gerrard had a slightly more fractured relationship with Morelos and it’s perhaps telling that Aston Villa are not one of the clubs looking at him.
During his time at Ibrox, Gerrard admitted he didn’t know when Morelos was returning from a break after the Copa America and also called him out for creating “noise” about a move away. Along with Newcastle, Everton and Leicester are also considering a $27 million swoop. And Howe, Rafa Benitez and Brendan Rodgers are three coaches well suited to managing what Morelos self-terms his “big personality.”
In terms of other options, there is no substance to Newcastle’s links with Edin Dzeko. Inter only signed the Bosnian international from Roma in August and the 35-year-old — who has eight Serie A goals to date this season — has no desire to leave the San Siro.
But one intriguing striker who is being scouted by Newcastle is Blackburn’s Chile international Ben Brereton Diaz. They’ll have to fend off firm interest from Leeds and Brighton — and other Premier League clubs may circle, too, after Baggies boss Tony Mowbray conceded he won’t begrudge the 22-year-old a move away from Ewood Park this January.
Brereton Diaz has 20 goals in 24 appearances in the Championship and it would be tough for Blackburn to turn down an offer in the region of $25 million even if it hampers their promotion chances.
Low-hanging fruit: Joe Rodon
Newcastle are likely to add some loan signings, too, with out-of-favor Tottenham center back Joe Rodon available. He has made just one Premier League appearance to date this season. The 24-year-old is a ball-playing defender valued by Spurs at around $27 million. Sources told CBS Sports that Newcastle view the price tag as too high, but would be open to a loan deal. Brighton are also tracking Rodon and their preference is for a permanent transfer in January.
Rodon featured 14 times across all competitions last season, but Antonio Conte seems to prefer fellowman Welshman Ben Davies. He wouldn’t be a flagship signing at St James’ Park — and some fans may question whether he’d get in the side ahead of Fabian Schar or Jamaal Lascelles — but he’s tall, strong, deceptively quick, useful in the air and comfortable in possession with either foot.
Newcastle could do a lot worse, and a loan swoop would ultimately be a low-risk move to add short-term depth to a defense that’s leaked a worrying 42 Premier League goals in 2021-22.
England Under-21 center back Lloyd Kelly — who was signed by Howe at Bournemouth — and Manchester City’s Nathan Ake, another Howe purchase at Bournemouth, have also been linked with Newcastle, but are less likely deals to come off in January. Kelly is in huge demand and sources at Championship leaders Bournemouth told CBS Sports the Cherries won’t sell unless they receive a handsome offer.
Long shot: Aaron Ramsey
Juventus midfielder Aaron Ramsey is looking for a move back to England. Juve are keen to get his $540,000-per-week wages off their books. Now 31, Ramsey wouldn’t be a particularly long-term signing for Newcastle and would need to agree to a huge wage cut to make any transfer work — although this will be true of wherever he ends up next.
Sources tell us there is no truth to reports Newcastle have already tabled a $200,000-per-week offer. But Ramsey’s agent, David Baldwin, has certainly been working hard to line up a move for his client over the festive period.
West Ham are another club seriously contemplating Ramsey, while FourFourTwo report that Arsenal are also considering a sensational swap deal that would see recently-stripped captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang heading to Turin with Ramsey returning to the North London.
Ramsey has scored just six goals in 70 games for Juventus — a pretty tame return compared to his impressive Arsenal numbers. His time at Juve has been hampered by injuries, but he’d have to find form and justify his wages pretty quickly at a club like Newcastle or risk instant fan (and potentially dressing room) backlash.
No deal: Ousmane Dembele
Ousmane Dembele won’t be joining Newcastle. The France international has demanded a $48 million per-year salary to extend his stay at Barcelona — a figure the debt-ridden Catalan club both can’t afford and are simply unwilling to pay.
The 24-year-old’s contract expires on June 30, so if Barca want a fee they’ll need to sell Dembele in January or lose him on a free transfer. According to CBS Sports insider Fabrizio Romano, Newcastle made contact in early December and were not scared off by his wage demands.
But CBS Sports also understands Dembele is against a switch predominantly because of Newcastle’s current league position and the likely lack of European soccer next season.
Manchester United are also pursuing Dembele, but his desire to play in the 2022-23 Champions League could potentially scupper a transfer to Old Trafford, too, even though Ralf Rangnick’s side ended the year just four points off fourth-placed Arsenal with a game in hand.
If Newcastle do any business with Barca it’s more likely to be for center back Samuel Umtiti, who is available for around $23 million. The 28-year-old was an integral part of the France squad that won the 2018 World Cup, scoring the winner in the semi-final victory over Belgium. The former Lyon defender would certainly add quality, but there are concerns over how injury-prone his time at the Camp Nou has been.
Panic buy: Gareth Bale
Newcastle will pretty much be linked with every superstar under the sun, especially if their form improves in 2022. Agents will inevitably fuel transfer talk in order to drive up prices with rival suitors.
More often than not, there won’t be much substance to this particular type of rumor. Even now, far-fetched names like Kylian Mbappe or Erling Haaland are being flippantly banded about by the fanbase as ‘dream’ targets that could only ever be pursued in far more successful and stable times.
Hearing these soccer ‘A-listers’ being mentioned in the same breath as Newcastle probably irks or amuses the new owners, and Gareth Bale may well fall into that category.
Real Madrid are expected to transfer list the 32-year-old in January, though. Spanish outlet Sport claimed in October that Bale was a Newcastle target, but CBS Sports has been told the Welsh international is of no interest to the Magpies.
Yet, much like the search for a new manager to replace Steve Bruce, there are some differences of opinion between Steve Nickson, the club’s head of recruitment, British-based owners Staveley, Mehrdad Ghodoussi and Jamie Reuben, and Saudi Arabian chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan.
This is natural, and a by-product of having multiple senior voices running a soccer club. Debate, and at times disagreement, can be very healthy. But what’s clear is the non-PIF voices at the club are far more focused on the soccer, with PIF very much looking out for the brand.
Al-Rumuyyan is intent on landing a marquee signing to help grow the latter and is known to be an admirer of both Bale and Philippe Coutinho. But there seems to be consensus that this window is not necessarily the right time to recruit a ‘luxury’ player. Should the Magpies fail to get some of their primary targets early in the month, it will be interesting to see if any ‘panic’ sets in and names previously dismissed, like Bale, suddenly seem more appealing.
Ultimately, Newcastle need signings capable of keeping them in the Premier League first and foremost, so despite being casually tied to a host of intriguing and star names, they must be realistic and shrewd with who they actually sign. Finding additions who are both the right fit and value is key, while fending off competition won’t quite be as easy as writing giant checks. The January window will no doubt be an exciting glimpse of the new owners’ ambitious plans, but transfers will still take place against the backdrop of both Newcastle’s perilous league position and the current financial climate. That means sensible signings not seismic spending should be the aim.