Watford can show the present and future Newcastle owners the way forward on Saturday
Amanda Staveley's consortium made a bid this week but Newcastle must avoid getting stung by the Hornets
In the game of chess that are the negotiations over the sale of Newcastle United, Amanda Staveley and PCP Capital, the prospective buyers, made their move on Monday. Keeping up with developments is tough, mainly because both parties signed a non-disclosure agreement, but all the rumours and speculation have suddenly become real after a reported £300million bid was made.
Newcastle fans are so used to hope killing them and so fed up with false dawns that they have built a wall of scepticism around themselves. Or rather, when the excitement threatens to creep in, it is swiftly shut down by inner realism, or even pessimism.
From high to low before landing somewhere in the middle; that is generally the way emotions fall when big news breaks on Tyneside. It didn’t take long for further reports to emerge that the offer hadn’t been made, before suggestions that it had but it was either well below the quoted price or the structure of payment would make it all the more complicated.
By Tuesday, it was said the offer was ‘take it or leave it’, and that there was a relegation clause, stipulating Mike Ashley would have to pay a large chunk of the money back if Newcastle dropped down to the Championship again.
Taking these matters with a pinch of salt is what Newcastle fans do because it is the right thing to do. Ashley is believed to value the club at £350million and after doing their due diligence, overlooking Newcastle’s financial outlook, PCP Capital have started with a low offer. Negotiation works the same way in any deal; business is taking place, and the way it sounds, there doesn’t seem to be too much between the two parties.
But once again, as Saturday afternoon approaches, the focus must turn to on-pitch matters. Marco Silva’s Watford are the visitors to St James’ Park in the middle of what is a tough spell for the Magpies, who have lost their last three games, their worst run under the stewardship of Rafa Benitez.
Watford are at eighth, playing some entertaining football under their in-demand Portuguese manager. But the 2-0 win over West Ham last week ended a similar run for them. Their preparations for the game have hardly been smooth, with Everton trying to lure Silva to the Goodison Park dugout. But they will prove a stern test for Newcastle.
The Hornets’ return to the Premier League was in the same season Newcastle went down-- 2015/16-- and they won that year’s clash on Tyneside 2-1. Things have changed a lot on both sides, undoubtedly for the better, but one side still has more ambition than the other.
Whether it is true or not that PCP Capital do want a relegation clause in any purchase of the club remains to be seen, but there is definite logic within. Ashley’s penny-pinching methods have left the squad looking bare, and though there is a hope the sale will be done by Christmas, ready for a Staveley-backed January spending spree, the consequences of that not happening could be serious.
It is only this year that Watford have looked as good as they do right now. Their first two campaigns back in the top flight may not have seen them battling at the sharp end for survival but they are now with their third manager in as many years.
A lot of their signings have been expensive with big reputations; neither Quique Sanchez Flores nor Walter Mazzarri, who have both worked in the Champions League, could keep control. Successive drops in form towards the end of both seasons, when relegation was no longer a threat, told its own story.
Their owners have always had the ambition but only now do they seem to have their house in order. If Silva goes, which he may do soon enough if he continues his impressive work which started last season at Hull City, the Pozzo family will get a taste of their own medicine.
There are similarities with Watford’s rise to becoming a top half-challenging Premier League team and the way Newcastle had been run for years before Ashley came along in 2007. The late Freddie Shepherd and Sir John Hall brought with them a burning desire to make Newcastle a footballing powerhouse. But towards the end of their reign, it seemed as though style was more important than substance.
Under Ashley, there has been no style; he has cleaned up the previous regime’s financial mess but at a cost of their trademark enthusiasm and there are definite lessons he could heed from the opposition on how to balance structure and ambition. The funny thing is, by putting Benitez in charge, he appeared to have done that. But this is exactly why fans won’t believe anything until they see it in action.
Watford will not be afraid to attack from the off this weekend. Richarlison is fast becoming the signing of the season, having netted five goals in his first 12 Premier League games. Newcastle will again be without Jamaal Lascelles, Christian Atsu and Mikel Merino; it is no coincidence that the team’s form has dipped since the trio has been absent, specifically the latter, who has sat out all three defeats with back trouble.
Amanda Staveley and PCP Capital seem like the real deal but Newcastle fans must keep their sceptical hats on for the time being. They face a Watford side who have shown just how quickly a soap opera can be turned into a genuine Premier League threat. Make no mistake, Saturday will bring no guarantees of an end to the recent misery.