The 2021-22 season was a year of two halves for Newcastle United. The first half of the season saw the club mired in a relegation battle, with Steve Bruce managing the side. A protracted takeover saw Mike Ashley finally leave the club, to the delight of the fanbase, with a consortium led by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund taking over in October.
Bruce didn’t last a month, with Eddie Howe appointed in November. Howe’s appointment saw a gradual change in the club’s fortunes, boosted massively by the January transfer window. Six wins in seven followed, with Howe’s side also managing another six wins in eight to see out the season. A year which started with relegation worries, ended comfortably in mid-table.
Two changes during the season were key to this, the introduction of Howe in place of Bruce, and the club’s January transfer business. The arrivals of Kieran Trippier, Chris Wood, Bruno Guimarães, Dan Burn, and Matt Targett in January were key, and made a big difference to how much punters were willing to back the Magpies on a bet exchange.
However, another change has taken place that has gone under the radar. Dan Ashworth was appointed as sporting director earlier this month, having resigned from his position as technical director at Brighton earlier this year. It’s seen as a smart move by many, Ashworth is well regarded within the sport, and will be trusted to shape the club’s overarching strategy.
Ashworth is likely to have a lot of freedom to make decisions over the coming months and years, and it’ll be interesting to see where that leaves Howe. The Englishman was brought in to keep the club up and, beyond that goal, implement a more progressive style of play. Nobody can deny that Howe has succeeded in that task, and the club’s mid-table finish is a solid tick next to his name.
However, with Ashworth taking charge of Newcastle’s longer-term future, many will wonder where Howe fits in. A head coach is usually appointed to fit a technical director’s plans for the club, but Howe wasn’t hired by Ashworth, and fans may begin to question whether he’s in the technical director’s plans. The good work Howe did last season means he’s unlikely to leave any time soon, and Newcastle will be expecting him to deliver more of the same, with a comfortable mid-table finish expected as the minimum.
Howe should be more than capable of this, especially with the financial backing he’s expected to receive, and he may see Newcastle as an opportunity to show what he can do with stronger financial backing than he received while at Bournemouth.
However, Newcastle’s ambitions are likely to continue growing. The new ownership will surely be expecting guaranteed top-half finishes, and a challenge for European places in the club’s future, and there are doubts as to whether Howe is the calibre of manager who can take a club to European contenders.
Ashworth will no doubt have a list of potential replacements in place already. Given how well he seemed to work with Graham Potter at Brighton, Newcastle fans may like the idea of that partnership being rekindled in the north east, with Potter looking a promising managerial talent.
That being said, it’s all speculation for now. Ashworth is almost certain to give Howe time, and a squad that suits him, but if Newcastle still find themselves in the middle reaches of the table next season, Howe may find himself on the way out.