If Newcastle United’s opening-day victory over Nottingham Forest hinted at an exciting season ahead at St James’ Park, the club’s ultimate success may yet be determined by their remaining business this summer.
Eddie Howe, the head coach, continues to push for offensive reinforcements as he looks to add greater flair and depth to his attacking ranks.
Here, in his latest mailbag, The Athletic’s Newcastle United correspondent Chris Waugh answers your questions — and, understandably, transfers feature prominently…
Are the club looking at a winger and a striker or just one now? — Nigel P
Do you think the next signing might be in a position we didn’t expect, like attacking midfield, given the issues getting other targets? — Dimitri B
Ideally, Newcastle had wanted two attacking players and the plan throughout the summer had been to add a striker and a winger, but the club are being flexible in what they are finding is a very challenging market.
That is where the James Maddison interest arose from. The Leicester City player is neither a natural wide man nor an out-and-out centre-forward, but he did score 12 goals and provide eight assists last season. He can, essentially, play anywhere in midfield plus across the front line and will bring greater creativity and goals to the Newcastle side, even if he does not necessarily fit the profile the club started the summer looking for.
Newcastle are still pushing to make offensive additions but whether that is a striker and a winger, or includes a goal threat slightly deeper on the pitch, depends on who is available and which deals the club can actually afford to conclude. It may only turn out to be one player in the end, too, if the budget does not stretch far enough.
Is the difficulty in signing a striker because they effectively will have no guarantee of game time due to Callum Wilson? — Alex W
Have you heard anything on Benjamin Sesko? — Liam B
Have we completely moved on from Alexander Isak? — Liam J
Yes and no, Alex.
Yes, in the sense that some forwards, such as Chelsea’s Armando Broja, whose situation Newcastle asked to be kept informed of months ago, have indicated that they want guaranteed game time, something Howe will not promise to any player, never mind someone who is coming in to compete with Wilson.
But no, in that the majority of forwards Newcastle have considered, since opting against pursuing expensive deals for established No 9s Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Ivan Toney, have been younger, versatile players who can play across the frontline.
Hugo Ekitike was seen as the perfect addition because he could either play out wide in a system alongside Wilson, or provide cover through the middle, and his potential was seen as so great that he could develop with the club.
The Frenchman’s decision to join Paris Saint-Germain set Newcastle’s summer plans back and they have since struggled to find an alternative who has similar characteristics but who Howe is also confident can make an immediate impact. Steve Nickson, the head of recruitment, has floated a series of European-based young forwards yet, due to finance, perceived unsuitability or their unavailability, none have yet been acquired.
Alexander Isak is admired by Newcastle — he has been a long-term target for Nickson — and would be ideally suited to the Premier League, but Real Sociedad’s demands were simply too high.
Red Bull Salzburg’s Benjamin Sesko, meanwhile, was also on Newcastle’s list, although the 19-year-old Slovenian was seen as someone for the future and is now joining RB Leipzig next year.
Rasmus Hojlund, the 19-year-old Sturm Graz forward, is another who has been tracked, though it is unclear whether Newcastle will actually pursue a move for the Denmark Under-19 international.
He is, however, just one of several names proposed during recruitment discussions in recent weeks — Luis Muriel is a more experienced option who was tentatively considered, though Atalanta want to sell him and Newcastle would prefer a loan, while Marseille’s Bamba Dieng is also on their radar.
The reality is that the player Howe ends up being delivered may not even have leaked out as being on their wanted list yet.
Do you think we’ll end up with some quality addition by the deadline having been put off ambitious targets by their price tags? — Jonathan G
Do you see missed targets (Moussa Diaby and Isak) being top of the list for future windows (as with Sven Botman and Ekitike)? — James M
That’s a difficult question to answer, Jonathan, as one person’s “ambitious targets” may be far less exciting to others.
But someone very senior at Newcastle was adamant last week that the club were making progress, albeit frustratingly slower than they would like, and that they recognise that the squad is at least one quality addition short.
The universal intention of those high up at St James’ is to rectify that — though they believe that by being patient, they will eventually secure a favourable deal during the final three weeks of the window for an offensive player who can prove to be a difference-maker in the final third.
As for your question, James, I think Diaby and Isak will remain under consideration, yes, but it also depends whether Newcastle are able to secure direct alternatives in the meantime and also how those players develop. Botman and Ekitike had been watched long-term by the club, just as Diaby and Isak have been, but there are others who Newcastle like that perhaps were not deemed realistic targets this summer who may become more obtainable in future windows.
Is Lucas Paqueta a good fit for Newcastle? — Imran K
Is Paqueta the new Tranquillo Barnetta? — Peter D
For those who do not immediately understand Peter’s reference, in the early 2010s, Barnetta, the former Switzerland midfielder, was repeatedly linked with Newcastle to such an extent that he was rumoured to be shacked up at the Jesmond Dene House Hotel in the city.
However, Barnetta, like Bafetimbi Gomis, another who seemed perennially set to move to Tyneside, never actually signed for Newcastle.
There is a risk that Paqueta will join that select band, despite the Brazilian having featured during conversations with Lyon in January, before Newcastle ended up signing his best friend, Bruno Guimaraes.
Agents continue to discuss Paqueta and Newcastle as a live situation, one that could see the summer end with the 24-year-old reunited with Guimaraes, though club sources have previously played down such suggestions. Perhaps that may change should Maddison prove unattainable — as increasingly appears to be the case — but it would represent a shift in stance from the start of the summer if Paqueta does arrive.
Will we go in for Callum Hudson-Odoi? — Matthew D
Why no interest in Christian Pulisic? — Christopher D
I’ll deal with these links as one — and all of them have at least been cited during transfer discussions, albeit some have been discussed to a stronger degree than others.
Newcastle have asked Chelsea and other top-six clubs to keep them informed of any attacking players they may consider sending on loan later in the window, with Hudson-Odoi and Conor Gallagher chief among them. Pulisic, meanwhile, is a wide option Newcastle would also consider, though the American may not be made available.
As for Harrison, Leeds’ owner did tell The Athletic that the winger will not be sold this summer and, as of yet, Newcastle have been put off by the asking price. Still, Howe is keen on Harrison and Newcastle may test Leeds’ resolve, but it seems unlikely they will offer enough to tempt a sale.
With Jonjo Shelvey’s injury, does this change transfer priorities? — Nick W
Reports claim Shelvey may not play until Boxing Day following hamstring surgery and The Athletic understands that Newcastle are anticipating the midfielder will miss a period of months, rather than weeks.
However, I do not think that will dramatically alter their transfer plans. It does offer greater context to the Maddison pursuit, though, and confirms why an offensive option who can perhaps play in midfield as well may be of increasing interest. It may yet mean Paqueta does become a more attractive proposition than he was just a few months ago.
Shelvey’s spell out also means that Elliot Anderson, the talented 19-year-old, will almost certainly remain on Tyneside, rather than head out on loan again, following an impressive pre-season.
What can we expect in terms of outgoings? — Connor W
Do you see Martin Dubravka seeking a move before the window shuts? If so, would another No 2 be recruited? — Adam M
There will be further outgoings. Howe has given rather curious answers about exits, claiming he does not have a large player pool and he wants to carry as many as he can, but, Premier League numbers-wise, he is simply unable to do so.
Anderson is under 21 and so he does not need to be registered in the senior squad, which is helpful, but it seems highly unlikely four senior goalkeepers will be named. That means one of Darlow, Dubravka or Mark Gillespie must depart or be left out, and, as things stand, the former appears more likely to leave.
Darlow is settled on Tyneside and Howe rates him but he is unlikely to be content as third choice. Unless Dubravka pushes to leave, which, as of yet, he hasn’t, then Darlow does have options to be a back-up at other Premier League clubs or compete to be No 1 at Championship sides.
Elsewhere, Ritchie could go as he is keen to return to the south coast, though Howe is reluctant to lose the experienced winger, and Newcastle may listen to offers for Javier Manquillo. Lewis’ fresh injury problems may mean Newcastle would consider loaning him out, but he is not being actively touted on the market. Federico Fernandez is expected to stay.
When it comes to Shelvey, Howe has a difficult decision to make. If the midfielder is ruled out until December, there is a chance he could be omitted from the 25-man squad to make room for an incoming — but that would mean, should Shelvey return to fitness sooner, he will be unable to play.
Can you explain Financial Fair Play (FFP) in more context? Is the reluctance to spend big now so we can go all in and make a bigger push in the future? — David M
It is a good question, David, and one that only Newcastle themselves can adequately answer.
However, the club have consciously decided to temper their own short-term spending, partly because their initial business plan did not involve just pouring in unlimited funds, and partly because they want to retain wriggle room within the Premier League’s profit and sustainability rules so that they can continue buying players in successive windows.
I do think there will be a bigger push in the future, once revenue streams have increased to offset spending and provide greater flexibility when it comes to FFP, but, even then, it will still be done in a sustainable and organic manner.
This article goes into greater depth as to how FFP affects Newcastle, while the Twitter thread below from the excellent Swiss Ramble also dives into the figures and how they are determining the club’s approach.
— Swiss Ramble (@SwissRamble) August 8, 2022
What are Wilson’s odds of staying fit for the season? — Andrew B
Howe and his backroom staff are confident that they have managed Wilson’s body well since his Achilles injury and are hopeful that a full, specifically tailored pre-season will increase his durability.
Wilson has also taken steps to try and improve his own conditioning, moving his family from Bournemouth to Tyneside to aid his rest and recovery and to limit his time spent on flights to and from the south coast.
The risk remains that Wilson will succumb to injury, however, given the 30-year-old has started just 51 per cent of Newcastle’s league matches over the past two full seasons. That is why Howe ideally wants another forward to provide competition for Chris Wood, in the likely event Wilson misses at least some of the 2022-23 campaign.
Is there a risk Botman becomes unsettled by being on the bench early on, given the World Cup is coming up? — Alex J
Such concerns are understandable, Alex, and Botman was definitely not content with starting the season on the bench. He came to Newcastle ahead of AC Milan because he intends to be a regular starter and to finally win a Netherlands senior cap.
That is why the World Cup will be primary in his thoughts and, should he fail to break into the team within a month or so, then the 22-year-old may then be demanding greater game time from Howe.
But the head coach’s plan is to ease Botman into the season so that ultimately he benefits from acclimatising to the pace and physicality of the Premier League. The likelihood is that, unless Newcastle suffer a defensive collapse beforehand, Botman will start the League Cup second round and then probably force his way into the XI soon afterwards.
Worries over Botman becoming unsettled certainly feel premature.
What is the state of the training ground? Have the works been completed? — Mark R
The works are still in progress, Mark, and are set to be for several months.
Some of the training pitches were relaid over the summer and many of the foundations finished, with a significant amount of building work completed while the squad were in Austria and Portugal for pre-season camps.
However, with the players now back at Benton full-time, that means much of the facility is being used by the first-team squad again, so their needs must be accommodated and that has led to a slowing down of work.
That, though, was always part of the plan and the hope is that the November and December break brought about by the World Cup, when Newcastle’s non-internationals are expected to head away for a mid-season camp, will provide an opportune moment for further weighty developments. The upgraded training ground may then be close to completion come the turn of the year.