NEWCASTLE: January has turned out to be an unsettling month for Newcastle United, according to head coach Eddie Howe.
Within days of CEO Darren Eales publicly stating two weeks ago that every player at the club has a price, as a result of the Premier League’s Profit and Sustainability Rules, the vultures started circling St James’ Park at a time when the Magpies have little money available to spend due to those same financial regulations.
Kieran Trippier was the first to be approached. It is understood Bayern Munich made three separate bids for the 33-year-old England international, the highest of which was believed to be about $16.5 million.
In normal circumstances, a big European club offering that kind of money for a player who will soon turn 34, and with only a little over a year left on his contract, would be an easy one to accept. In a show of strength, however, Newcastle refused to entertain the Bavarian overtures.
Next up was club captain Jamaal Lascelles, who was linked with a move to Turkish side Besiktas. Then came approaches for Callum Wilson from Atletico Madrid and AC Milan, with interest also reportedly shown by Chelsea and Manchester United. The latest transfer talk originated in Saudi Arabia, with Al-Shabab keen to take Miguel Almiron.
As things stand, no offers have been accepted.
Howe considers the club’s stance on the transfer bids to be a positive one, particularly regarding Trippier. The head coach had hoped to add to his injury-ravaged squad during the transfer window but the financial regulations have prevented him from doing so as yet. Newcastle are at the limit in terms of the amount of money the club can afford lose in a three-year accounting period, based on the rules for the top flight.
“It’s sending an important message, from the club’s perspective,” Howe said about the situation regarding transfers.
“Yes, with Darren’s message that he put out in the media, we’re not just going to sell anybody at any price. We would have valuations on players and those valuations have to be met or the club won’t sell. That’s where everyone has been very strong — and that has to be the case.
“It’s hypothetical but it would have been a big blow to us (losing Trippier). He is so important, he is such a big leader of the group, he inspires the other players, the other players gain confidence when he’s with us. He is a player who really affects the team, creates goals, is a big attacking player for us. So yeah, we would have missed him if he wasn’t here. Thankfully he is and he is hopefully going to be a big part of our future.”
One could imagine Trippier’s head might have been turned by the Bayern interest, and the opportunity it presented to link up again with good friend Harry Kane and potentially win domestic and European silverware. That was not the case, according to Howe.
“Kieran’s head wasn’t turned,” he said. “Kieran has only ever spoken positively about his time here, his experience here, about Newcastle as a club, about his relationship with the supporters. He was absolutely focused on the future and his family are very happy here. I think it has worked out well for him in the end.
“I have to make it clear he has never asked to leave or questioned his future here. It’s a huge compliment that a club like Bayern are interested in him. It’s no surprise to me because he’s an excellent footballer.
“The situation is finished as far as everyone is concerned, Kieran, myself. But we’ve been in football long enough to never, ever say 100 percent (finished) because I don’t want to look stupid. Kieran is 100 percent committed and we definitely want to keep him.”
Howe also shut down any talk of Lascelles leaving, but while he did state that he wants Wilson and Almiron to remain at the club, he conceded that there has been “noise” around the futures of both.
“There’s been a lot of noise and speculation about his (Almiron’s) future but certainly, as his manager, I’m desperate to keep him,” he said.
“He’s played an integral part since I’ve come to the club in the sense of his contribution has been immense, whether that’s goal-scoring, work rate, discipline, commitment or professionalism.
“There has been a lot of noise, that noise comes from somewhere, but hopefully we can keep him.”
Turning his attention to Wilson, Howe said: “That’s been a strange one, really, because there’s been a lot of speculation regarding Callum and I’ve seen some of it, probably not all of it, but a lot of it, I think, has been unfounded.
“From our side, Callum is a huge part of what we’re doing. We’re desperate to get both our strikers fit at the same time, which we haven’t had for a long time now and that’s hurt us in a lot of different ways. He’s nearing fitness, nearing a return. He’s looked good — not trained with us yet but he’s getting there and there is no part of me that wants to lose Callum.”
Talk this week has also continued revolve around whether or not Newcastle will be able to add to their squad, even with their hands tied to some extent by the financial rules. With Yasir Al-Rumayyan, head of Newcastle majority owner the Saudi Public Investment Fund, currently in the UK and Newcastle’s directors having been called to a meeting at Alnwick Castle this week, hopes have risen among fans, with just six days to go before the transfer window closes.
Asked whether there was a deal to be done, Howe could offer no guarantees.
“We’re of course working with the club again to see what we can do the other way,” he said. “We’re still doing our work and preparing if we can.
“Things are changing on a daily basis. We are working behind the scenes on lining up targets and potentially players we can bring in but there are no guarantees that’ll happen. We’ve got a little bit of time left before the window closes but of course it is my aim to try and leave the window with the strongest squad possible. That won’t change.”
Regarding the late-night meeting of the club directors, Howe said: “No, I wasn’t there. I knew the meeting was happening — I must have missed the invitation. The board are always very understanding of my job and let me focus on the training and everything I need to do. I understand there was a meeting and there was probably lots to discuss that impacts the long-term future of the club.”
The Magpies will be in FA Cup action this weekend when they face Fulham at Craven Cottage in the fourth round. The competition is the last realistic opportunity for the club to pick up any silverware this season.
One player who was this week ruled out of action, potentially until the end of the season, is Brazilian international Joelinton.
With his contract situation not yet resolved — it runs out in 2025 — Howe admitted that if nothing is signed, the recent match against Sunderland on Jan. 6 might be the last game the midfielder plays for the club.
“His injury is a massive blow for us,” Howe said. “He has 18 months left on his contract. As his manager, I’m determined for him to stay. I love him as a person and a player, so that would be my wish, for him to sign a long-term contract.
“But of course there’s more to it than that. There’s Joe’s wishes and what he wants. Before he signs a contract he has to be entirely happy with everything. We’re not at that stage yet.
“I’m not a fortune teller and I certainly hope that is not the case. There is a possibility that could be the case but I don’t know — 18 months (left on a contract) is a vulnerable time for a club. The club will need to tie Joe down to a longer-term contract or there is a possibility he will be sold in the summer. That is just the reality of the situation.”
Howe will welcome back Jacob Murphy to the squad on Saturday, but remains without the services of a host of key players.
“We still have a long injury list,” he said. “Jacob Murphy has trained and he’s looked good, so I’m pleased with his progress. That’s a big positive. A part from that, no one else is there. They are all still working back to full fitness but are getting closer, the likes of Harvey (Barnes), Callum, Joe Willock, they’re showing good signs.”