What will it take to fix the mess at Newcastle United? 100m? 50m? 200m?
Unless Ashley pulls an Abramovich and Keegan turns into a pleasant version of Jose Mourinho, things aren’t going to change overnight at St James’ Park. Keegan will first have to convince players to come play for Newcastle United, which, to be fair to all sides, doesn’t automatically offer a chance to win titles. This holds Newcastle back in the sense that they can’t bring the likes of David Villa to the club – someone who will score 30 goals each season and give them some sort of hope.
But Newcastle have Michael Owen, you say?
Yes they do, and he’s a special case. His career was at a specific juncture and only a club like Newcastle (or perhaps West Ham or Tottenham) could afford him and match his ambition of pushing for success. He chose Newcastle, and will hopefully lead the club to a massively improved season next year.
That’s the sort of people Keegan should be looking at – players who are supremely talented but have a point to prove, players who thrive on confidence and need Keegan’s motivational skills more than they need anything else. Players who want to be famous again, players who are driven to resurrect their careers.
If done wrong, this approach would attract the likes of Mark Viduka – talented no doubt but at the fag end of his career and not exactly a striker you’d want on your books if things were moving in the right direction. Experience is one thing, expensive and no-ROI experience is another.
Of course you need to balance the need to bring in stars with the need to create a stable foundation for long-term success at the club. For every Owen you need a Milner, for every Barton a Taylor, for every Duff a N’Zogbia. And then you need the utility men like Geremi and even Alan Smith, who will do the hard work for you and fill in the gaps when needed. They prime examples of such a player in the Premier League are John O’Shea and Darren Fletcher, and Newcastle could do worse than attract the likes of them.
I hope Newcastle do well, and I hope Keegan does well. But to make it work they need the right strategy, and for that they need to spend wisely but spend as much as possible to produce at least a top-10 finish next season (which was the target this season as well). The danger is that fans will, seeing money and players, talking about Europe but then it’s Ashley’s job to batten down the hatches and give a pragmatic outlook while Keegan motivates his players and gets them to go on a Portsmouth or Manchester City like run (both were in contention for a Champions League spot at one point) next year.
I reckon they could, with 50m or so, turn this into a top-10 squad. Of course, some players have to go. But 50m should be enough.