You suspect Dan Ashworth would prefer to keep a low profile at this time of year, but Newcastle United’s sporting director was present at the Sports Data Forum earlier this week. Ashworth took part in a virtual conference discussion on football data and made a comment that is more notable in the transfer window.
“Show me a man who’s never made a mistake, I’ll show you a man who’s never made a decision,” he said on Monday. “We make decisions all the time. You get it right, you get it wrong. You’ve got to get more right than wrong, ultimately, if you want to stay here.”
As obvious as it may sound, those words are at the heart of Newcastle’s transfer strategy, where every million counts, and Ashworth was speaking after completing a £55m move for Sandro Tonali to Milan. It’s a deal that excites those working behind the scenes at Newcastle.
READ MORE: Newcastle legend Alan Shearer turns blue in the air with message to James Maddison ahead of Spurs move
Eddie Howe, after all, has predicted this will be his ‘toughest’ window as Newcastle boss as there is a small group of players who can improve a team that finished fourth last season, but the Magpies found one in Tonali. Such individuals are not only expensive, but also in demand, but Newcastle managed to convince Tonali to leave his boyhood club – and at a decent price too, for a 23-year-old Italian international who is the his best years are ahead of him. .
While Tonali will need to handle the physicality and pace of the Premier League, it’s hard to imagine this deal being viewed as a Newcastle blunder for years to come. Similarly, it looks like Spurs have picked up a decent piece of business, themselves, as the Londoners close in on James Maddison.
Maddison was directly involved in 19 goals last season at relegated side Leicester City, and since joining the Foxes, the England international is third in the Premier League for chances created (347), fourth for shots (389), seventh for big chances created (50), eighth for assists (32) and 19th for goals (43). No wonder Newcastle tried to sign the attacking midfielder last summer.
Newcastle are expected to return to the table with a new offer within 12 months but Leicester have missed out on the bidding war the Foxes would have liked. Spurs ultimately had a free run on Maddison, who will undergo a medical on Wednesday before completing a move worth an initial £40m.
Maddison may only have a year left on his contract but it should be noted that Chelsea are demanding £65m for Mason Mount, who has also entered the final 12 months of his contract. West Ham, meanwhile, want more than £100m for Declan Rice, whose deal expires in 2024, although the Hammers have the option to extend the midfielder’s contract by another year regardless.
This is going to be the rate for England internationals now and Newcastle may feel their funds will go elsewhere, possibly to a younger game-changer, first and foremost a move for Tonali. In truth, Maddison’s wage demands and desire to play down south may have made it difficult to do anything. Perhaps, it is a combination of the two.
Yes, Newcastle outplayed Spurs on the field last season but, despite that, the Magpies still have a lot of work to do to bridge the gap after years of neglect during the Ashley era. Spurs posted revenues of £444m for the year ending June 30, 2022; Newcastle, in the same period, recorded a fee of £180m. This means that Spurs, as a result, can offer higher wages while still complying with Financial Fair Play regulations as outlined by Howe in his final post-match press conference of the campaign last month.
“It’s not the transfer fees,” the Newcastle boss told reporters. “It’s the wages and we’re not big payers in the Premier League so the big clubs dwarf us all in those terms so that makes it difficult to attract the best players in the market.”
Howe is also keen for Newcastle’s wage structure to evolve gradually to maintain unity in the dressing room. If Newcastle really screw it up, there will be a queue of key players who could, reasonably, demand the parity, which helped the black-and-whites get into the Champions League in the first place.
Newcastle can’t afford that prospect just yet. Newcastle’s latest set of accounts also revealed that the club’s wages-to-turnover ratio is a whopping 96.4%. For context, part-owner Amanda Staveley admitted that the previous figure of around 65% was ‘probably too high’.
Yes, the coffers have been boosted by more TV money, increased Premier League merit payments, improved commercial revenues and Champions League funds, but Newcastle still need to be shrewd businessmen this summer . Newcastle need to build on the shrewd deals made to offload Jonjo Shelvey and Chris Wood to Nottingham Forest in January, and, at the very least, get some decent income off the books having barely played in the last 18 months.
There is still work to be done, but it is easy to forget that there are still 65 days before the transfer window closes. Newcastle are just getting started.
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