Eddie Howe? What, the bloke from Bournemouth? How is that going to play with some of the inflated egos around Tyneside these days? How does that buy into the narrative of the massive club?
A massive club in massive trouble, looking not just at the league table but the mess being made of the search for a new manager.
No amount of PR soft soap can disguise the chaotic loss of Unai Emery. Newcastle as good as announced his arrival in time for Brighton on Saturday, much as they had signposted Steve Bruce’s departure before the first game. Brief first, ask questions later seems to be the new owners’ policy. Emery, a serious man, saw through that straight away.
Newcastle United have turned to Eddie Howe as they look to appoint a new manager
It doesn’t matter how many meetings they had, how good the offer, how enthusiastic the pursuit. The proposal leaked from the Newcastle end on an important Villarreal match day, which was embarrassing for Emery and spooked him about the club he was joining.
They looked random and unprofessional and, because Newcastle had made no formal approach to Villarreal, placed him in a difficult position. This then raised other doubts about the way the club was going to be run.
Bottom line, Newcastle blew it. They could almost certainly have got Emery with a more skilled approach. And they needed Emery, because expectations are so high.
They always are, at Newcastle. Long before the Saudi takeover, Rafa Benitez was loved because his status flattered. Champions League winner, La Liga winner, Europa League winner, former manager of Valencia, Liverpool, Inter Milan, Napoli — here was a man big enough for Newcastle.
Steve Bruce — late of Wigan, Birmingham, Hull, Sheffield Wednesday and a beaten FA Cup finalist — not so much. How long would Howe’s honeymoon period last at a club that has raised previously exaggerated ideals?
A bungled approach for Villarreal’s Unai Emery led to the Spaniard turning down the Magpies
Reaction to news of the Emery-Howe switch already displays rumblings of discontent.
Howe is a good manager. There have been times in the past five years when he has been discussed as a potential successor to Gareth Southgate.
He has been linked with a number of elite jobs, not least opportunities at Tottenham and Arsenal, and his four seasons keeping Bournemouth in the Premier League far outweigh their relegation. Howe is exactly the sort of manager Newcastle should have courted years ago.
Yet that is also the problem. He was courted, or at least considered, by a previous regime. Howe was among the candidates weighed up during Mike Ashley’s reign.
And those who have bought most heavily into the Saudi takeover now think Newcastle are so much bigger than that. They don’t want someone Ashley could have got. They want what was previously out of reach.
Howe had been considered for the role at St James’ Park under former owner Mike Ashley (left)
Despite his failings at Arsenal, four-time Europa League winner and Ligue 1 champion Emery played into that presumption. He was Rafa II. He was the first marquee signing. He’d even worked with Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Marco Verratti — the level of player the most fevered imaginations believe might one day be heading Newcastle’s way.
This is a further complication for Howe. Yes, he was at Bournemouth with Callum Wilson, Ryan Fraser and Matt Ritchie, but players of that calibre are no longer seen as Newcastle’s future.
Wilson is the best of it right now, but wasn’t snapped up by the Premier League elite when Bournemouth went down. He was bought by Newcastle, at the insistence of Bruce. And we all know what the locals think of Bruce’s judgment. Howe has been out of work since stepping down from Bournemouth on August 1, 2020. Two days before that, the Saudi PIF takeover of Newcastle was withdrawn.
It was never, however, completely off the table.
That was the reason Ashley challenged the Premier League in court. He always knew if he could overturn their refusal to ratify the deal, the Saudis would buy. So, for the entire time Howe has been available, the prospect of the takeover has rumbled on.
He could have been installed by the time of the first new-era game against Tottenham on October 17. He could have been given the job on the day the takeover happened and had all week to prepare. Nothing. So the idea Howe is now the man is simply spin and convenience. This may turn out a brilliant appointment. Yet there is no strategy supporting that, no grand plan. This would be a purely reactive decision.
Newcastle’s new Saudi owners fronted by Amanda Staveley (right) with her husband Mehrdad Ghodoussi have struggled to land a replacement for Steve Bruce
For Howe could keep Newcastle up but, just as easily, take them down. He is good, but he cannot work miracles. Bournemouth proved that. After four seasons of Premier League survival, they were relegated. Why? Because they’re Bournemouth.
There are a handful of clubs for whom relegation is unthinkable and the rest are in the mix. All it takes is a few bad buys, a few bad injuries, one sale too many and any club of Bournemouth’s size will be vulnerable. Newcastle have certainly made some bad buys.
As last season demonstrated, the odd injury can also impact, too. Lose Wilson, lose Allan Saint-Maximin, see what happens. What if Howe couldn’t turn Newcastle as swiftly as the imagined miracle-workers it was believed would get the job?
Despite having months to prepare, Newcastle sacked Bruce without a clue who was going to replace him. Little that has happened since suggests that was a temporary aberration.
The squad is not strong enough, a new manager still incoming. Newcastle lack a coherent strategist at executive level. That is what Emery sensed, which is why he remains in Spain.
UEFA’s 600,000 tree pledge struggling to take root
Amid all the verbiage and lather around COP26, an interesting survey. A sample of British citizens revealed the amount they were willing to pay each week towards tackling climate change. For 66 per cent, no more than five quid.
Sounds about right. Not that this amount will have a genuine impact, but that the majority of people are very keen on policies to address environmental well-being, right until the moment it starts to affect them; particularly financially.
Boris Johnson, for instance, said some very fine words in Glasgow, then jumped on a private plane to make a Daily Telegraph soiree at the Garrick Club. He was all for cutting carbon emissions until it affected dinner — specifically, his dinner. It is similar in sport.
A group of 50 Olympians and Paralympians called on world leaders to push ahead on climate action at COP26. ‘We did our utmost this summer,’ read their statement. ‘Now, it is your chance to deliver.’
By doing their utmost, of course, they meant they did exactly what they wanted by flying to Japan to engage in a spectacle that leaves an enormous carbon footprint. We love the Olympics.
But in the wider context of saving the planet, is it really necessary? Probably not. So we could equally ask Olympic rower Melissa Wilson, one of the signatories, why the emissions involved in staging a global rowing event are so essential yet, for instance, a business trip or much-needed family holiday is not?
Athletes in minority interest sports really don’t want to start pulling at the strand of what constitutes necessary travel. Green until it affects them.
Manchester United flew to Leicester City for their Premier League match back in October
Manchester United have an environmental policy statement on their website that runs to a weighty 463 words. Yet on October 16 they flew to an away match at Leicester — 10 minutes in the air — due to ‘operational circumstances’. In other words, they didn’t fancy 105 miles on the M6 and M1.
UEFA also have an environmental mission, with their campaign Cleaner Air, Better Game. And how has this manifested itself? With the creation of the UEFA Conference League, a competition that produces 68 per cent more tonnes of CO2 and requires 40,000 more air kilometres than the Champions League. Each Conference League matchday generates 61 tonnes of CO2.
And this follows UEFA’s summer European Championship tournament that required travel across Europe to 12 host cities — including the far flung outpost of Baku — which was going to be offset by investment in renewable energy projects such as the planting of 600,000 trees.
So far, one sixth of that number have gone into the ground, apparently due to Covid. Strange, because gardening is an outdoor activity and, as such, one of the few permitted during a pandemic.
Maybe, as with so many green advocates, UEFA’s pledge was just more hot air.
It’s the culture that counts, not words
The biggest mistake that could be made now would be if Azeem Rafiq’s denunciations and misery were just to become another interminable debate around the nature of language.
Evaluating the hurtful power of individual words, the context, what constitutes misguided banter and what is outright racism, clouds a far more important issue. That Yorkshire CCC did not think it had a problem and judging by its behaviour, still doesn’t.
There were three British Asians on the panel it is claimed have presided over a whitewash. One of them, Mesba Ahmed, is vice-chairman of the National Asian Cricket Council. Their integrity does not deserve to be questioned.
What can be argued is that, consistently, Yorkshire have not taken the subject of racism seriously, that they have not been sufficiently concerned by the evidence of individuals and that they have lacked the wit and empathy to understand the alienation felt within their walls.
Rafiq was ignored and the process to address his complaints was non-existent. Yorkshire officials, on the staff and the executive, lacked the education or interest in resolving the problem, and that is despicable. Worse, this failure of understanding meant they actually facilitated the atmosphere in which racially-charged language became acceptable. They couldn’t fix the problem, because they were the root of it. And some still are.
The biggest mistake that could be made now would be if Azeem Rafiq’s denunciations and misery were just to become another interminable debate around the nature of language
The idea Colin Graves will return as Yorkshire chairman to save the day is laughable. In the position between 2012 and 2015, some of this has happened on his watch.
And while he can’t be held responsible for every warped exchange in the closed environment of the dressing room, he can certainly be judged over what was passable at the time.
Some of the words uttered within Rafiq’s earshot won’t just have been confined to the playing areas.
Are we to believe the language and attitudes in the bar, or the committee rooms, did not also reflect club culture? Graves defended Darren Lehmann after an outburst charged with racial expletives during a match for Australia against Sri Lanka.
Lehmann was a Yorkshire player, Graves the chief executive. ‘If the recent incident has upset or annoyed anyone concerned with cricket in general or with Yorkshire then we apologise to those people,’ said Graves.
If? One of the phrases Lehmann was accused of using was ‘black c***’.
That was in 2003. Here we are 18 years later and Graves is being advanced as the figure who could rehabilitate the county from this latest crisis. Is that progress? The same guy, addressing the same problem, two decades on?
The nature of banter, of language, is a side issue here. It is the institutionally racist culture of Yorkshire CCC, top to bottom, that must change.
The idea Colin Graves will return as Yorkshire chairman to save the day is laughable
Look who’s talking, too!
There may be some even bigger names brought into the racism row at Yorkshire, when Azeem Rafiq and the county’s executives appear before the DCMS committee. Parliamentary privilege means allegations that have been redacted could be made public.
Julian Knight, the committee chair, said: ‘Given the endemic racism at Yorkshire County Cricket Club, I struggle to think of any reason why the board should remain in post.’ Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, added ‘heads should roll at Yorkshire CCC’.
Neither statement is wrong. Yet for an idea of how the same politicians treat wrong-doing in their own circle, consider that a three-line Government whip was used to initially defend MP Owen Paterson, who took £500,000 to lobby for two companies in parliament. MPs voted by 250 to 232 to rip up their standards system introduced after the expenses scandal.
None of this makes Yorkshire any more palatable, but we might want to appraise who is doing the judging.
Bordering on the ridiculous
Manchester United fans returning to Stansted Airport from Bergamo on Wednesday will have been delighted to discover their club does not, in fact, possess the most incompetent group of management executives in the country.
Judging by the queues, and with 30 automated machines shut, that accolade must go to whoever is in charge of border control. Maybe it’s Ed Woodward.