“I want to make it clear that there will be no drastic changes,” Newcastle United’s chief executive announced in front of a packed room of journalists at the newly branded Riyadh Arena.
That message was reinforced a week later at the launch of Newcastle’s 2020/21 home strip, featuring green and white stripes for the first time in the club’s 128-year history.
Indeed, Mauricio Pochettino’s first signings as Newcastle manager- Harry Kane, James Rodriguez and Philippe Coutinho- were all keen to stress that they were charmed by the soul of the club.
That being said, eyebrows were raised when Yasser Al-Shahrani, a full-back with 57 caps for Saudi Arabia to his name, claimed that he’d grown up idolising Christian Bassedas, Nikos Dabizas and Shola Ameobi and was delighted to be signing for his boyhood club.
The Middle East had come to the North East, and the Saudis weren’t messing about.
Where Man City’s set about spending the United Arab Emirates’ vast resources on Robinho, Nigel de Jong, Craig Bellamy, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Jo, Newcastle broke their transfer record no fewer than three times in a week, signing Kane, Coutinho and Rodriguez for a combined 2,347,364,145 Saudi Riyal.
Angelo Ogbonna was also signed from West Ham, although there was a mixed reaction when the Newcastle marketing team’s attempted to brand his partnership with fellow defenders Jamaal Lascelles and Florian Lejeune as LOL.
Luckily everyone saw sense and a similar marketing move with Henry Saivet and Jonjo Shelvey, aka ‘The SS’ was canned at the last minute.
With all the PR gaffes out the way and Allan Saint-Maximin’s headband upgraded from Sports Direct to Balmain, Newcastle set about winning a first league title since 1927.
Mauricio Pochettino surprised everyone with an attacking 3-2-4-1 formation, believed to be inspired after Kevin Keegan visited the Argentine in his sleep and repeated ‘I would love it if we played 3-2-4-1’ until he woke up in a cold sweat.
There was more surprise when Shelvey stepped up ahead of Kane, Coutinho and Rodriguez to fire home a 90th minute free-kick, getting Pochettino’s Saudi regime off to a winning start against former club Spurs at the Amazon Prime Same-Day Delivery Stadium.
But Pochettino and Newcastle were brought down to earth in the following game, against Leeds, when Kane’s marshmallow ankle went after just two minutes following an innocuous coming together with fellow England international Kalvin Phillips.
Newcastle’s Saudi owners ordered Pochettino to replace Kane with Mbappe, sanctioning a world-record £500million move for the Frenchman, but were informed that the transfer window was shut and they would have to wait until 1st January to invest further in the squad.
After initially threatening to sue the Premier League, Newcastle’s owners were placated by Pochettino’s assurances that he’d be able to cope
But, after 45 minutes of watching Joelinton and Miguel Almiron toil up front against a Sheffield United defence that, in theory, was worn out from keeping Erling Haaland and Real Madrid quiet in their Champions League encounter just 78 hours earlier, the Saudis had seen enough and pulled the plug.
The increased TV money from Netflix meant Newcastle stumbled through to January without financial ruin, but a frantically organised fire sale saw the club offload most of the senior squad, aside from 11 members of the Longstaff family.
Pochettino also packed his bags and left, making the journey down the M1 to Manchester where he took over from temporary player-manager Paul Pogba at Man United. Pogba had stepped in after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s decision to quit football and run a museum named ‘The Good Ole Days’ dedicated solely to Sir Alex Ferguson.
Newcastle were powerless to avoid relegation and looked set for financial free fall in the Championship until, in a cut-price deal synonymous with the rest of his business portfolio, Mike Ashley returned to the North East and saved the club.
*For a month
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