Unai Emery to Newcastle – a relegation fire-fighter vs a proven winner
Unai Emery is the hot favourite for the Newcastle United job to replace Steve Bruce but what can he bring to Tyneside?
His 11 major trophies will no doubt excite fans as he brings a wealth of experience and silverware with him though serious questions must be raised in the short-term as to whether he’s capable of keeping the team afloat.
Some pundits, for example TalkSPORT’s Simon Jordan or beIN Sport’s Richard Keys, believe a relegation specialist is more equipped for this immediate challenge.
After all, the team is winless in its first 10 and although the club has survived when starting a season as poorly as this before – in 1898/99 and in 2018/19 – it is no guarantee of survival this time round.
The Saudi-backed takeover in October adds glamour to a Newcastle side longing for investment but 10 games separate the current team from strengthening in the January transfer window.
In its previous 10, of course, Newcastle drew 4 and lost 6. This is a team devoid of confidence and Emery, if appointed, needs as much time as he can to work with the players to regain that self-belief.
Graeme Jones, the current interim head coach, admitted “a fresh face” was what was needed, while stressing his remit was simply to “keep the club healthy” for a new boss to arrive.
On a personal note I believe the consortium want to play two cards at the same time: by focusing on a proven manager at the highest level, there is hope that relegation can be avoided without the need to appoint a stop-gap manager in transition.
Mark Douglas of The Chronicle said that a source close to the consortium said “the right decision long-term will be the right decision for the short-term as well.”
And it is that belief that could inspire the players to grind results. The football doesn’t need to be pretty at this stage – Steve Bruce’s infamous “accumulation of points” mantra may well be true for now.
A quarter of the season has passed and the club are six points from 17th, seven points on a technical note if you include the inferior goal difference as some believe it counts for an extra point.
Immediate gains are desired and the next quarter of a season could prove vital. It’s what Emery, or any eventual appointee, has to work with to keep the club “ticking over” (another so-called Bruceism) with its head held high before longing investment is sought.
The next 10 games could make or break our season.
Worse-case scenario and the club remains in the relegation zone and a third relegation in 12 years is almost surely a formality and preparations shift to bouncing back quickly.
The trouble with that is that the Championship is an especially competitive league and owners have gambled clubs’ futures away, look at Derby for example who were one match from promotion only two years ago, for the chance of Premier League football.
The Public Investment Fund (PIF), 80% of Newcastle United, have lots of money but they will spend measurably not extravagantly. Relegation would dampen their vision of a successful Newcastle.
Amanda Staveley, speaking to Sky Sports on the day of the takeover, said: “We want to see it get those trophies, obviously. At top of the Premier League, in Europe, but to get trophies means patience, investment, time. We want everybody to work with us to build the club towards what it needs to be.”
Alternatively a best-case scenario sees the club no longer looking over their shoulder and can plan for a prosperous future competing for silverware.
The December run-in is notoriously difficult: Arsenal, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Everton in the space of five weeks.
And it’s because the season has started so poorly that Newcastle must pick up points against the tougher sides, that’s the harsh reality that happens when you don’t perform against the teams around you.
It’s what happens when you don’t keep a clean sheet all season, it’s what happens when you concede the 2nd-most goals and it’s what happens when expectations are lowered to a point where simply existing is complimented despite it being Newcastle’s fifth season after promotion.
It’s natural to feel worried at this stage but I believe that because much of the season is left the chance of staying clear rises with every extra game to play.
Extra time on the training ground, extra time to review video footage which Emery appears notorious for, extra time to work on creating a composed style of play aligning with Emery’s vision.
The future is bright even if the sky seems stormy. Eventually the sorrow and anger from overhanging mistakes by the previous ownership will be replaced and in the long-run Newcastle will be better off no matter what happens on the field by May.