LONDON (Reuters) – Newcastle United fans expecting an influx of so-called Galacticos ahead of the new Premier League season might feel short-changed as the club’s Saudi Arabian owners have resisted any urge to splash out vast sums of their cash.
With their opening Premier League match at home to promoted Nottingham Forest four days away, Dutch centre back Sven Botman remains the club’s biggest close-season recruit having joined for 33 million pounds ($40.29 million) from French club Lille.
England international keeper Nick Pope also arrived, left back Matt Targett made a loan spell permanent and midfielder Isaac Hayden joined on a free transfer from Norwich City.
Solid enough signings but hardly the kind of names that will have the Toon Army buzzing with excitement.
It is almost 10 months since Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) completed a controversial 300 million pounds buyout of the north-east club with the dubious distinction of being the biggest of sleeping giants in English football.
Their first move was to sack manager Steve Bruce and hire Eddie Howe who produced a remarkable turnaround in form as Newcastle, who did not claim a victory until December, won 12 games after the turn of the year to finish 11th.
The January signings of England right back Kieran Trippier, Brighton centre back Dan Burn and Brazilian midfielder Bruno Guimaraes were key factors in Newcastle’s escape.
Having secured their top flight status, many expected an influx of big names ahead of the new campaign but it appears the PIF are sticking to their pledge that bringing silverware to the club will be a long-term, not a vanity, project.
The Premier League’s financial fair play rules mean it was never likely that a bunch of A-listers would arrive en masse.
The way Newcastle finished last season suggests that would not have been a prudent path anyway.
Englishman Howe was impressive in the way he forged a new stability in the Newcastle team, initially making them hard to beat and then, once survival looked secure, beginning to make them look like a squad capable of challenging in the top half.
Results in pre-season have been encouraging with wins over 1860 Munich, Atalanta and Athletic Bilbao coupled with defeats by Benfica and Mainz.
More signings are likely in August with Leicester City midfielder James Maddison in their sights, but for now it appears Newcastle’s owners are keeping a fairly low profile.
Board member Amanda Staveley, who helped facilitate the Saudi deal after a long-running saga, warned fans at the time against expecting the likes of Lionel Messi to pop up at St James’ Park any time soon.
“Change does not always happen overnight, it demands time and that we follow a carefully considered plan and strategy,” Staveley said.
A new training ground to replace Newcastle’s outdated Benton base is reportedly in the planning stage, while the club also has a new CEO in Darren Eales and has revamped its analytics, sports science and physio departments.
Much of the project goes on behind the scenes although there are some clues as to the identity of the club’s new owners.
Newcastle’s third strip is white with green trim — the colours of the Saudi national flag — which has given more ammunition to those who say the PIF buyout amounts to sportswashing by a regime keen to improve its image.
($1 = 0.8191 pounds)
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris)