Newcastle United might have the richest owners in the Premier League, but that doesn’t mean they will be taking on Manchester City and Chelsea just yet.
The Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund that is now the club’s majority owner has more money at its disposal than the owners of the other 19 Premier League clubs combined. Eventually, Newcastle will challenge the top teams, and their long-term threat to soccer’s hierarchy is real enough to cause Manchester United’s share price to fall.
But Newcastle’s new owners first have to make sure that they still own a Premier League team by the end of the season.
Newcastle United still haven’t won a league game this season, and are currently in 19th. Their three draws came against three of the four sides directly above them, and have the joint-worst defense in the league.
Years of neglect can’t be sorted out overnight. Even with their new owners’ huge financial backing, they will first have to get into a position where they could realistically challenge for Europe before being able to attract the top players.
The season before Manchester City were taken over by investors from Abu Dhabi, they had finished 9th in the league, and despite some poor seasons, had finished in the top ten three times in the six seasons before the takeover. In that first season, despite their British record signing of Robinho, Manchester City still only finished 10th, followed by a 5th place finish the season after.
Robinho, along with Craig Bellamy and Wayne Bridge, who were signed in the January window following Manchester City’s takeover, had already left the club by the time that Sergio Aguero scored THAT goal.
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When Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea, they were already top-six regulars. Many of Abramovich’s early big-money signings such as Scott Parker, Juan Sebastian Veron, Adrian Mutu and Hernan Crespo also didn’t play major roles in Chelsea’s subsequent success.
Despite both sides only being one or two steps away from challenging for the title, taking those extra steps cost Manchester City around $500 million for their first title, and more than $1 billion more to build their current squad. After adjusting the amounts to account for inflation in transfer fees, Chelsea spent around $2.5 billion in transfer fees alone.
Newcastle United are coming from a much weaker initial position than either Chelsea or Manchester City. They have only finished in the Premier League’s top ten once in the past seven seasons (one of which was spent in England’s second tier), and have been doing just enough to survive, rather than showing any ambition of challenging in the top half of the league.
To build a squad capable of winning the league, they might have to spend north of $2 billion, and all that spending is going to have ripple effects throughout the rest of the Premier League.
Before they can start to attract players to challenge the Champions League sides, they need to build a squad capable of regular top-half finishes – think Jesse Lingard and James Tarkowski rather than Kylian Mbappe.
But even building a top-ten squad can be an expensive business. Aston Villa spent more than $250 million in their first two years back in the Premier League to build a competitive squad. Newcastle’s spending over the next couple of seasons could mirror that of Villa’s, allowing them to climb into a position where they can attract the next tier of players.
When they really want to push for the title, there could be some crazy fees. When Manchester City were building their first big-money squad, they picked up Aston Villa’s captain Gareth Barry for just $16 million. Fast forward to last summer and Jack Grealish cost City more than eight times that figure. Premier League money means mid-table teams aren’t obligated to sell their star players anymore, and can pay them well enough to hold out for monster fees.
If the Saudi-backed deal had gone through last year, that rebuilding process might have been cheaper, as they could’ve taken advantage of the pandemic to pick up some bargains from cash-strapped clubs in Europe. By next summer when they can really start to rebuild, prices will be starting to return to pre-pandemic levels and there will be fewer high-quality free agents available.
Newcastle United’s new financial power is also going to push those player prices even higher. If the transfer rumors sections of the British tabloids are to be believed, teams like Chelsea and Manchester United could benefit initially from Newcastle’s wealth, as it might allow them to offload players who aren’t performing well enough or playing regularly enough to justify their high salaries. Newcastle would be able to match those salaries and need to improve their squad quickly to get out of their relegation battle and move up to the next rung on the Premier League ladder.
Teams like Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City, as well as teams like West Ham United and Aston Villa could initially lose out in the transfer market, with Newcastle competing for a similar caliber of players, driving the prices up and stealing their transfer targets. With almost an entire new squad needed at St. James’ Park, other Premier League sides will find it harder to sign top quality players from cash-strapped teams in the Bundesliga or La Liga. Players from Barcelona headed to Yorkshire and the Midlands last summer. This winter they could be braving the Baltic winds and moving to Tyneside.
A high-profile Robinho-esque signing is likely, simply as a statement of intent, but sensible signings might be the best way for Newcastle to approach the January window, with the aim of staying comfortably away from the relegation zone before a properly planned rebuild over the next couple of summers.
That could get the club into a position where they can attract the very best players with the promise of trophies rather than dollar bills and start competing for the world’s very best players.
At that point, Manchester United’s shareholders might start really worrying.