Death, taxes and pre-season meltdowns at Newcastle United.
Summer just wouldn’t feel like summer without Mike Ashley unfurling the next stage of his dastardly plan to rustle up the locals on Tyneside.
The Crown Prince of Donnay trainer socks and Lonsdale three-quarters rightfully treats his football club as a business – it’s naive to expect owners to do otherwise in the modern day game – but barely an owner treats their business and its customers with such contempt.
Rafa Benitez was allowed to walk out the door without visible signs of a fight from the hierarchy to keep him in position.
The Spanish gaffer acted as a sponge between fans and the top brass, absorbing the adulation from one side and doing just enough with his team on the field to protect Ashley & Co. from all-out customer rebellion.
The Benitez barrier is no more, and fan fury has arguably never been higher – that’s saying something for a set of fans who watched Schteve McClaren burn through £80million-worth of pocket money just to tee up a relegation.
Since Steve Bruce’s controversial appointment, Ashley has in fact opened his chequebook, but will the Geordie boss have enough time to make the most of it?
RadioTimes.com has rounded up everything you need to know about Newcastle ahead of the 2019/20 season.
— Newcastle United FC (@NUFC) July 23, 2019
Where did Newcastle finish last season?
13th. Newcastle kicked off with a 10-game winless streak before they finally clicked into a rhythm.
Benitez remained cautious throughout the season, his defensive style regularly turned games into turgid viewing but ultimately the Magpies started to pick up points, including a phenomenal 2-1 victory over Manchester City.
Opening period aside, Newcastle enjoyed a pattern of wins, draws and losses you’d expect from a side happy to nest in the cosy mid-table places.
Salomon Rondon and Ayoze Perez combined in the latter stages of the season to bring the good times back to St James’ Park, though neither remain at the club.
Who is Newcastle’s key player?
Miguel Almiron. In theory, Almiron is the dynamic playmaker every non-top six Premier League team craves.
He’s packed with potential for goals, assists, thunderous shots and defence-shredding passes. Almiron can carry the ball well too.
The Paraguayan star has the ability to pop up anywhere in the opposing half and give defenders a worrisome afternoon.
His Premier League debut half-season was interrupted by injuries and clearly needs time to adjust to a higher standard of league.
There’s no doubting his raw ability though, and if Bruce can get him in the right system, the Magpies could have a gem on their hands.
Who is Newcastle’s biggest summer signing
Joelinton (£40m). There’s nothing quite like signing a single-named Brazilian striker to irrationally raise an entire city’s hopes. He’s a £40m Brazilian striker, how can he not score 50 goals this season?!
Joelinton is a 6ft2 powerhouse forward with a 1-in-3 record in the German and Austrian top flights.
The 22-year-old will be used as a bounce board by the likes of Almiron and other attackers roaming forward.
He is there to fill the crater left by the muscular Rondon, though he cuts a more slight figure and is therefore more mobile with the ball at his feet.
Joelinton is, in essence, a targetman but will others into play with his feet as comfortably as he will in the air.
Who is Newcastle’s manager? Meet Steve Bruce
A shiny new bike to the man, woman or child who can name a more underwhelming managerial downgrade than this one.
Benitez had his flaws, he wasn’t the demi-god many Newcastle fans would have you believe, but there’s no denying his pedigree and experience was a huge motivating factor for his squad and a major draw for new signings coming in.
Bruce was putting his managerial reputation back together at Sheffield Wednesday following a poor spell at Aston Villa despite the resources at his disposal.
He has an undeniably strong record in the second tier, but a win ratio of just 28.1% in the top flight won’t set pulses racing in Newcastle.
The 58-year-old knows this could be his last chance at a Premier League job unless he can lead another side to promotion, but is unlikely to change his philosophy of winning games by any means necessary.
Bruce has dabbled with a range of formations during his career, but generally enjoys flooding the box with crosses and hurling the ball into danger zones in the hope of an attacker connecting with it. Rudimentary? Arguably. Effective? In the Championship, yes. Time will tell if he can build a system out of the players at his disposal.
Newcastle fixtures – The start
11th: Arsenal (H)
17th: Norwich (A)
25th: Tottenham (A)
Newcastle fixtures – The run-in
2nd: Tottenham (H)
9th: Brighton (A)
17th: Liverpool (H)
Where will Newcastle finish? RadioTimes.com says…
The squad isn’t bottom-of-the-league awful but there’s a lot of pressure on the new signings to hit the ground running.
Joelinton needs an early goal to get the fans onside, while last season’s big signing Almiron will be relied on to create, create, create.
Both players, plus any others who join, are sure to dazzle in flashes with their technical ability but a disjointed summer has left Newcastle in a messy state. It’s hard to see how Bruce can organise this team in such a short space of time and fly out of the blocks.
Bruce won’t be the unmitigated disaster many have already pegged him down to be, nor will he ever lead the Magpies to anything greater than ‘well, we survived another year’.
For the fans, it’s going to be an underwhelming, disappointing one.
For Mike Ashley, it’s going to go exactly how he wants it to.