The £220m lie that undermines what Newcastle United have done

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
The Magpies have produced a remarkable improvement to thrust themselves into contention for a Champions League place.

With one frustration-filled guttural outburst, former Newcastle United defender John Anderson summed up the emotions of Magpies supporters to perfection.

With five games gone in the 2021/22 Premier League season, Steve Bruce’s side were yet to pick up a win and had already suffered a Carabao Cup exit in a penalty shoot-out defeat to Burnley. The summer transfer window had ended with just one new addition as Joe Willock’s loan move from Arsenal was belatedly converted into a £25 million permanent switch to Tyneside.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Confidence, belief, ambition, and drive felt at an all-time low - but here was a chance, in the final seconds of a game at Watford, to finally lay down the foundations for an improved run of form. The two sides were level after Hornets winger Ismaila Sarr cancelled out a first-half opener from Magpies midfielder Sean Longstaff. But now, with seconds ticking down, Jacob Murphy was released in on goal, with only Ben Foster standing in the way of giving United their first win of the season. The winger looked composed, but needlessly hesitated before trying to dink the ball over the advancing goalkeeper, who remained firm and blocked the effort to ensure the points were shared.

Sitting alongside lead commentator Matthew Raisback on BBC Newcastle’s coverage of the game, former United stalwart Anderson did not hold back in releasing his frustration as the chance went awry. “ARRGGGGHHHHHHH JUST PUT IT IN THE NET!”, cried the former Republic of Ireland international, as he reflected the anger and frustration that was shown by the vast majority of the Magpies supporters in the away end at Vicarage Road. To conveniently paraphrase Murphy’s Law, anything that could go wrong had gone wrong.

Murphy, a £12 million Rafa Benitez signing in the summer of 2017, was yet to provide a consistent level of performance to justify his price tag and it would be fair to suggest he was seen as one member of the United squad that was viewed as dispensable by the club’s supporters. Yet fast forward 19 months from that day at Vicarage Road and Murphy has unquestionably just enjoyed his greatest moments in a black and white shirt after scoring two goals in the Magpies 6-1 hammering of Champions League rivals Tottenham Hotspur.

The winger has become a trusted member of Eddie Howe’s squad and is helping the Magpies unexpectedly push for a top four place by providing energy, discipline, and end product on a consistent basis. He delivers on everything asked of him from the man chosen to succeed Bruce in the aftermath of the PIF-led takeover just a month after that miss at Watford.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He is, at present, ensuring Howe can take a considered approach to nursing Miguel Almiron back to full fitness after a thigh injury threatened to curtail a goal-laden season from the Paraguayan international. The frustrations of the past are now the possibilities of the future for Murphy, who is another example of why the Magpies progress under Howe is about far more than the unquestionably impressive work undertaken in the transfer market.

There is no question Howe has benefited from the arrival of the likes of Kieran Trippier, Sven Botman, Nick Pope, Bruno Guimaraes, and Alexander Isak since taking charge at St James’ Park in November 2021. They have fast-tracked the Magpies transformation from near certainties for relegation to definite candidates for a place in next season’s Champions League.

Yet to simply put United’s development under Howe down to the £220 million spent in the transfer market would be underplaying the remarkable improvement the former Bournemouth manager and his coaching staff have brought out of several members of the squad he inherited from Bruce.

Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe embraces midfielder Miguel Almiron.Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe embraces midfielder Miguel Almiron.
Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe embraces midfielder Miguel Almiron.

Joelinton, once a goal-shy striker, is now a midfield powerhouse, providing goals and assists as well as the energy and strength so admired by his manager. The lack of end-product from the aforementioned Almiron was once bemoaned - yet the lively winger has produced 14 goal involvements in 34 appearances so far this season, hitting double figures for goals for the first time in the Premier League. Fabian Schar had watched on from the sidelines in the opening weeks of the season prior to Howe’s arrival, yet now forms a cool and classy part of the Premier League’s most water-tight defence.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Under Rafa Benitez, Sean Longstaff was seen as the bright young thing in United’s midfield before his form and confidence took a surprising dip when Steve Bruce succeeded the popular Spanish boss. An exit looked increasingly likely as a contract dispute threatened the Geordie midfielder’s future at his boyhood club. The arrival of Howe, and the immediate bond forged between the pair, has transformed Longstaff into the player many in United’s academy felt he could be and an England call-up is not out of the question in the near future.

The same can be said of Joe Willock, who has grown in confidence and stature under Howe, something summed up in the sumptuous pass that released Alexander Isak to fire home his side’s third goal in Sunday’s win over Spurs. With the outside of his cultured right foot, Willock curled a perfectly weighted 40-yard pass in behind the visitors defence to allow the Swedish striker to fire beyond Hugo Lloris and continue a stunning start to the game from his side. The former Arsenal man has been branded as Willockinho by his team-mates - Sunday’s assist shows the tag is more than simply a tongue-in-cheek example of dressing room banter.

Getty Images

There is genuine belief that Howe can deliver on the ambitious plans of the club’s Saudi-led owners, and that was a belief instilled during an impressive presentation given to the Magpies hierarchy as they looked for a successor to Bruce. There was talk of the fine details in each player’s game, how he could draw an improvement out of them, and areas for improvement elsewhere.

Howe has been heavily backed with funds to strengthen his squad, of that there is no doubt. But his determination and ability to bring an improvement of the underperforming players in the squad he inherited have proved as valuable as each and every pound spent in the transfer market during his time at St James Park.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.