The Champions League dream is still alive.
Some Alexander Isak magic and back-to-back victories before the international break mean fifth-placed Newcastle United head into the final 12 games of the Premier League season with their top-four destiny in their own hands.
Already, however, attention is shifting towards the summer transfer window, to players’ futures and to what comes next.
Here, Chris Waugh and George Caulkin answer your questions…
Scott McTominay is underwhelming. Surely there are better players available abroad? — Thomas F
Is there substance to James Maddison and Kieran Tierney links? — Omar M
Waugh: Before discussing individuals, it must be stressed Newcastle are yet to fully whittle down their long list — though the players mentioned do feature prominently. Tierney is seen as an ideal attacking left-back, the pursuit of a creative midfielder in Maddison started last summer, while McTominay was discussed in January.
The McTominay links have split supporters and, to an extent, I understand why. He isn’t a sexy option, someone who would transform the team as Bruno Guimaraes did.
Yet what he would do is bring significant Premier League and European experience — the latter, in particular, is viewed as vital this summer — and the 26-year-old is tall (6ft 4in, 193cm), athletic and powerful. They are traits Eddie Howe values. He is versatile, too, able to play at No 6 or No 8. Newcastle require greater depth in midfield, and if McTominay is available for a decent price, Howe believes he would be an astute addition.
The point about overseas imports potentially offering greater value for money and a higher ceiling for development is valid. Yet Howe wants at least some summer signings who he can rely upon in the Premier League immediately.
Guimaraes, Sven Botman and Isak have excelled on Tyneside, and other European-based players will be sought, but there is always a risk that foreign players will take time to adapt.
Caulkin: I don’t really get the ambivalence towards McTominay (albeit this is a social-media thing, not necessarily a real-world thing). If, as we all hope, Newcastle qualify for Europe, they will need a bigger, more competitive squad. McTominay has made 37 appearances in Europe for Manchester United and has 38 Scotland caps. That’s valuable experience. I would back Howe to make him better. After what they’ve done in the market so far, I’d back their judgment.
The club’s story post-takeover has been about building on what they already have and also building for the future. Guimaraes, Botman, Isak… that’s the kind of quality Newcastle want to be about down the line. McTominay would be more about dealing with the here and now of the top six and Europe.
Are the reports on pre-contract discussions with Thuram(s) true? — Kevin D
Do you think the club is in a position to sign Moussa Diaby this summer? — Shaun B
Is Declan Rice a viable option? — Jack C
Waugh: Marcus Thuram’s Borussia Monchengladbach contract is up this summer and Newcastle have asked to be kept informed of the forward’s situation, but whether they try to compete for the wages he’ll likely demand as a free agent, I’m unsure. His brother, Khephren, is liked by Steve Nickson, Newcastle’s head of recruitment, and at 22 could be an intriguing midfield option.
Moussa Diaby has also been tracked long-term, but Newcastle felt he was too expensive last summer. The 23-year-old winger has continued to impress, with eight goals and four assists in the Bundesliga this season, but whether he is a firm option has yet to be determined.
As for Rice, I’m sure Newcastle would love him — he’s exactly what they need — but West Ham’s expected asking price makes it very unlikely.
Caulkin: I would go a bit further than Chris. Rice is a superb player, but he’s not where Newcastle are at the moment and he’s out of their price range when you take financial fair play (FFP) into account. No chance he’s coming to Newcastle. Feel free to screenshot this for when he joins for £150million ($122m) in July.
How much do you think we can realistically spend this summer? — Graham C
Is there a huge difference between our Champions League and Europa League transfer budgets? — Michael S
If we qualify for Europe how many incoming players do you think we’ll need? — Felix S
Would Champions League qualification actually expedite transfer plans, when the club’s leadership have a clear strategy? — Edward P
Waugh: The exact figure for a summer budget has not been disclosed and, if the previous three windows prove anything, it’s that Newcastle are fluid. Once Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the chairman, gets involved, additional funds can be released and planned future investments brought forward.
The board insist that summer windows are more conducive to substantive business than January and that greater squad surgery would be conducted then. Around five additions — left-back, centre-back, midfielder(s) and forward(s) — are ideally being sought.
There is an acceptance that greater depth is required for European competition and, if Newcastle qualify for the Champions League, then significant quality is needed, which may lead to an increased budget.
You raise an important point though, Edward, and Newcastle will not compromise on their long-term blueprint for short-term gain. That is why they did not sign a midfielder in January. The board will not risk their financial position by gambling on incomings, but the Champions League itself brings additional revenue, which is why more, in theory, could be spent.
Caulkin: A small point, but Newcastle are working on three lists of targets right now: one for the Champions League, one for lesser European competitions and one for no Europe at all. That can’t be easy!
How does recruitment work at the club? — Jacob J
Is there a worry that Eddie prioritises domestic-based players too much? — Phil A
Waugh: The five signings made in January 2022 were all Howe-led additions — he was, effectively, de facto director of football and manager — and they can all be considered successes.
The same is true of each of the past two windows: Howe had the final say on all first-team incomings and outgoings, even if Dan Ashworth, the sporting director, is now overseeing transfers.
To a degree, the informal recruitment team work on a collegiate basis. Howe, Nickson and Ashworth identify targets collectively. Ashworth then attempts to negotiate deals and Howe makes the ultimate call.
As for whether Howe’s preference for Premier League-experienced players is a “worry”, his record at Newcastle so far suggests otherwise, even if some question his later-era Bournemouth additions. Ashworth’s job is to ensure Newcastle do not overpay for players or have a squad with too high an age profile, and Howe knows he must work within those parameters. Also, Howe signed Guimaraes, Botman and Isak, remember?
Caulkin: There’s a nice balance in Newcastle’s squad, and Guimaraes and Botman have absolutely bought into Howe’s philosophy. They press, they work hard, they put themselves about. Partly, it’s because Howe is insistent on bringing in the right characters. That’s far more important than nationality. But “worry”, Phil? No, absolutely not. Worry is bottom three, not trying, traipsing along, wasting our time. This is glorious.
If you were an amalgamated blob of Howe, Ashworth and Jason ‘Mad Dog’ Tindall, who would be your three realistic, plausible summer signings? — Alex W
Waugh: With the disclaimer that this is off the cuff, I’ll go for Maddison, Khephren Thuram and Folarin Balogun. A creative spark, a dynamic midfielder and a young, versatile forward are priorities and they fit those profiles.
Would Jude Bellingham be a possibility? Would Gavi be, due to his contract issues? — Gregory D
Waugh: I hate to be the one to crush your dreams, Gregory, but I’m pretty sure you already know the answer anyway…
The Newcastle plea to Gavi this week was tongue-in-cheek, and Bellingham will go to one of Europe’s biggest clubs. Newcastle simply are not far enough along in their evolution for top-level additions like those two.
Caulkin: Not yet!
Which players will leave this summer? — Stephen L
When are Ryan Fraser and Jamal Lewis’scontracts up? — Andrew B
Waugh: Paul Dummett, Loris Karius, Matt Ritchie, Mark Gillespie, Matty Longstaff and Ciaran Clark are into the final few months of their contracts. Of those, Howe is considering keeping Dummett and Karius, but the others are expected to leave.
Isaac Hayden’s deal runs until 2026 and Jeff Hendrick’s to 2024, but they will both be made available. Permanent interest may be an issue again, though, given their wages.
Beyond that, no firm decision has been made on anyone, aside from Fraser (whose contract expires in 2025), who Newcastle will look to move on following his exile to the under-21s. Lewis, too, is likely to be available, at the very least on loan, given he has another two years as well, while Jamaal Lascelles, Emil Krafth, Javier Manquillo and Karl Darlow could leave. There could be unexpected exits, too, if Newcastle receive enticing offers and decide they can use the proceeds to reinvest.
But deciding to move players on and actually doing so are entirely different prospects. It’s unlikely all will depart.
Will Allan Saint-Maximin accept a rotating role? — Alvin L
Do you think Howe trusts Saint-Maximin to be part of his medium-to-long-term plans? — Jonathan T
Caulkin: There was noise around Saint-Maximin’s position in January but Howe shut it down — there was no way he could afford to lose the winger with Newcastle challenging for the top four and going deep in the Carabao Cup.
This will be a pivotal summer, though. He hasn’t been at his best, his fitness has been patchy and, if “intensity is our identity”, where does Saint-Maximin fit?
At some point, Newcastle have to start selling players to generate income. He’s an obvious candidate, with the proviso that they would have to find a buyer. That would make me a bit sad. During some difficult moments, he’s been a gem and a game-changer.
Waugh: Howe recognises that Saint-Maximin brings an ingenuity in attack — particularly at home against stubborn opposition — that Newcastle simply lack without him. For now, he’s a key attacking option.
However, Saint-Maximin’s camp has at least explored whether there are exit options and, long term, I’m not sure the Frenchman is an archetypal ‘Howe player’. It depends on what offers, if any, Newcastle receive, coupled with incoming deals.
In the context of Newcastle’s immediate and long-term future, does Sunday’s Manchester United game feel more significant than the cup final? — Timmy S
Caulkin: What cup final? Who cares about that tinpot trophy…? OK, I’m joking, through very gritted teeth. This takes us back to the silverware versus top-four debate and I was always on the silverware side of the argument. I still am. Yes, the Champions League is great, it would raise Newcastle’s profile, attract players and bring in more money, but ultimately it’s just another tournament. I want to know what it feels like to win something.
As to your specific question, you could argue that winning at Wembley would have validated Newcastle’s project in a similar way. Come to Tyneside and you’ll have a chance of winning something. That’s a pretty powerful message.
Having said all that, it does feel like a big game. It’d be nice to get one back on them, wouldn’t it?
Waugh: In my view, winning a trophy was the big one and still is. Getting into the Champions League would be wonderful, but I don’t believe doing so now is quite as critical to the long-term future as some argue.
Do you get the impression that the club, like fans, were guilty of looking ahead to the cup final through February rather than focusing on each game? — William P
Caulkin: Yes, but I don’t think I would use the word “guilty”, William. We all got swept up in it. The hope has to be that Newcastle return soon and it feels a bit more natural. We “won” the weekend, with the emotion and atmosphere — it was special, magical — but next time, we need to win the big moments.
Waugh: Howe would certainly reject this premise strongly — and tried to guard against it. But it was such a momentous game that it was nigh-on impossible to avoid some focus slipping.
What do you make of our run-in? I don’t see any fixtures I don’t think we can win. — Benjamin H
Caulkin: Tottenham: chaos. Liverpool: ridiculously inconsistent. Brentford: Ivan Toney. Fulham: Aleksandar Mitrovic. This is not a list of Newcastle’s run-in opponents but rather an indication of the opportunity in front of them.
After a clearly unfit Kalvin Phillips started for England, surely Joe Willock and Sean Longstaff must be wondering what they have to do. — Peter L
Waugh: I don’t disagree, Peter, and Willock has been exceptional in the past couple of games, yet he needs to show that form consistently. Even Howe accepts that. I do think Willock will play for England, but it seems he has to do more to convince Gareth Southgate.
Caulkin: Southgate talked at length last week about the decline of English talent playing in the Premier League. That’s not something you can say about Newcastle. In the run-up to the World Cup, we highlighted the English core of Howe’s team. Against Nottingham Forest, six of Newcastle’s starting XI were eligible for England, with Callum Wilson also on the bench.
Why shouldn’t any of those players have aspirations for making the leap? Under Mike Ashley, it felt as if Tyneside was a graveyard for international ambitions — now it can be a launchpad.
How closely are Amanda Staveley and the owners watching the Everton and Manchester City FFP situations? If they get anything other than a heavy points fine or are expelled, we should definitely just buy who we want. — Dan B
Caulkin: This isn’t a new observation, Dan, but, from the outset, both clubs you mention were at the forefront of the new Newcastle owners’ thoughts, although not quite for that reason. In terms of success, the idea is to become Manchester City; to do that, they had to avoid becoming another Everton.
As someone at the top of the club told me after the takeover, speaking anonymously to speak freely: “You look at a club like Everton who have spent so much money and you think, ‘Well, where and why did it go wrong?’. And we’re very aware of that. We are focusing on what we’re doing but also looking at whatever everyone else is doing and where they are making mistakes.”
FFP has been a consideration from the very start and so, too, has becoming a “sustainable” club — something that people often forget. The idea has never been to blow everybody else out of the water, even if they could.
We wrote about the FFP constraints at the end of January — they were at their very limits after buying Anthony Gordon. In terms of potential punishment for City and Everton, it’s important to remember both maintain they’ve done nothing wrong, but Newcastle are taking FFP seriously.
Can you confirm how long the kit deal with Castore is for? — Tony C
Waugh: The initial deal was announced as being “multi-year”, but it was for six years, which means it would run through until 2027. Whether it contains a break clause is unclear, plus Newcastle have explored trying to extricate themselves from what Staveley describes as “very difficult contracts”, but if that is possible and makes financial sense remains to be seen.
Kits tend to be designed almost months in advance, so that makes it harder to quickly replace a supplier than a front-of-short sponsor.
How is our women’s team developing? Are they using the same facilities as the men’s team? — 以臻
Considering there aren’t, to my knowledge, the same FFP constraints in the women’s game, are the owners tempted or considering “doing a Chelsea/Man City” or is it the same sustainable growth as for the men’s team? — Andrew B
Caulkin: I interviewed Becky Langley, the women’s manager, in August and she answered some of these questions. “We train at the academy and at the first-team training centre, which we didn’t last season. We can use the club doctor to help with injuries and illnesses, which is a big bonus. Previously, we were relying on part-time sports therapists.” Eventually, they’ll be training at the same purpose-built training ground as the men.
There has already been significant investment in the team and more will follow. The club are looking at their recruitment models, for domestic targets and abroad.
I’m 38 now and if we really are going to go all the way and win everything then I want to be courted first — to be wined and dined, a touching of hands, a kiss on the cheek, a midnight stroll, a fondle in a darkened theatre. Am I mad to want this season to end with (in order of preference) qualification for: Europa League, Conference League, Champions League? — Niall C
Caulkin: Yes, Niall, I can confirm you are mad. We’ve already had years — DECADES! — of near-misses and abject failures and, if you’re 38, you can surely remember at least some of them. I’m 52, we haven’t had ‘being good’ for a while and I’ve never had ‘winning’. Give me that! Give me it right now!
I know what you mean about the journey and savouring that feeling of the stadium rocking, yearning to be there and coming out post-match with a smile on your face, but the Champions League is a huge opportunity in terms of profile and resources; it’s difficult to imagine Chelsea and Liverpool being so wretched next season, Manchester United are closing in on investment and Arsenal and Manchester City are likely to get stronger. So let’s fast-track for once.
Also, I would like to ask you a question please, on behalf of a… ummm, friend. Which theatres do you go to, exactly?
(Top photo: Mark Leech/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)