Newcastle dream of emulating Chelsea’s takeover success – but the reality will be far slower

The season before Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea, Newcastle United finished above them in the Premier League. In the early years of the millennium, it was touch and go which of these teams would kick on.

After the 2003 buyout at Stamford Bridge things changed. The power had shifted. It has rarely been close between the two clubs.

Even on the one occasion when Newcastle ended the season in front of Chelsea, the west London side won the Champions League. That is the kind of success that the Saudi Arabian-financed consortium aspire to on Tyneside. The desert kingdom’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), which owns 80 per cent of the club, has access to wealth that makes Abramovich look like a comparative pauper.

The two sides meet at St James’ Park tomorrow and Newcastle’s new owners are likely to be given a stark illustration of the gap between the teams. Chelsea are top of the division and look menacing under the direction of Thomas Tuchel. Even when they are not playing well, Tuchel’s team are experts at exploiting and punishing the opposition’s mistakes. And Newcastle make a lot of mistakes.

The blunders on the pitch are obvious. The errors being made behind the scenes are less visible but could turn out to be even more damaging.


Roman Abramovich, second left, with Cesar Azpilicueta, second right, and the Champions League trophy

There are three parties in Newcastle’s consortium: PIF, Amanda Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners firm and the Reuben Brothers’ RB Sports and Media company. The lines of control and communication between them have been blurred in the first month of the takeover.

This often happens with a change of ownership. At Chelsea there was a period of confusion. Agents flock towards any club that receives an injection of cash. Conversations take place, people jockey for position and, sometimes, the most important issue – the performance of the team – takes a back seat.

This is bad enough with one owner. With three, the confusion is turned up a notch.

Staveley – like the Reubens – owns 10 per cent and was charged with running the club on a day-to-day basis. The plan was for an experienced football operator to be given the task of assessing the playing and coaching staff before any kneejerk decisions were made. The individual selected to compile this report has not yet been engaged. Meanwhile, Newcastle appointed a new under-23 coach this week. That is not joined-up thinking.

The transfer window opens in nine weeks’ time. The club have money to spend. Mike Ashley’s parsimonious approach means that Saudi cash can be utilised immediately without any financial fair play ramifications. All manner of seemingly attractive deals are being offered to various members of the consortium. Yet until there is a clear understanding of the team’s most pressing needs there is the risk of buying the wrong sort of players. To see the impact of getting this stuff wrong, you only have to look at Everton, who spent £500 million in five years and still appear to be half a billion’s worth of players away from the top four.

New Newcastle chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan (left) and Amanda Staveley in the crowd at St James’ Park on Sunday (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Newcastle’s owners dithered on sacking Steve Bruce and there are conflicting views within the group about who should be the next manager. Again, the main worry is that the choice will be made by people whose experience within the game is minimal. Many of the names bandied about as being on the shortlist are the sort of managers who would suit a club that has significantly more talent than Newcastle. It would be ludicrous, for example, to give the job to someone like Roberto Martinez, whose name cropped up in connection with the role. This is a team in the midst of a relegation battle: any thought of flamboyant, entertaining football should be discarded until their top-flight security is guaranteed.

The game is seductive. Those who find themselves suddenly involved at a Premier League club can be dazzled by the glamour. The inessentials appear to become important – building pecking orders in the boardroom, designing seating plans for home games, massaging egos – but the focus should be completely on the pitch. Get things right there and everything else falls into place.

Abramovich did that by following simple precepts: he employed the best manager available and bought the best players on the market. But Chelsea was a much more stable club when the Russian arrived than Newcastle under Ashley. The oligarch inherited a good but upgradable manager in Claudio Ranieri and a team of seasoned European campaigners. They had won trophies within the living memory of players they were trying to sign.


None of this applies to Newcastle. In lots of ways, they are starting from scratch. And it has been a slow start. The process of agreeing and signing off decisions needs to be sharpened

Chelsea are almost two decades ahead and that will show tomorrow. There are no quick fixes at St James’ Park but Newcastle need to start showing signs of progress. At the moment it feels like the club is standing still.

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