Prior to Eddie Howe’s appointment at Newcastle United, St. James’ Park was a miserable place. Steve Bruce was previously manager of the Magpies but a large portion of the ‘Toon army’ were unhappy with him. Under the leadership of the former Manchester United defender, Newcastle were sitting in the lower echelons of the table and staring down the barrel of relegation, while playing a defensive style of football.
However, that completely changed when Howe took the hot seat in the north-east. Helped with the Saudi-backed takeover, Newcastle have gone from relegation candidates to UEFA Champions League contenders – all in the space of a year. But what has Howe done on Tyneside to completely change the club?
Near the end of Bruce’s spell as manager, the Magpies were in a relegation battle. It was a real possibility that the four-time Premier League champions would be returning to the Championship for the first time since the 2016/17 campaign. After Mike Ashley’s 14-year ownership, Saudi-backed investors bought the club for £305m, according to The Athletic, meaning Newcastle had a bright financial future ahead.
Bruce spent little time in charge under the new owners before he received his marching orders, with Howe taking his place. The 45-year-old took Bournemouth from League Two to the Premier League during his time in charge and without him, the Cherries wouldn’t be where they are today. In their second season in the Premier League, Bournemouth finished ninth but their five-year stay in the top flight came to an end as they were relegated in the 2019/20 season.
After eight years on the south coast, Howe left by mutual consent with a vision to return to club management in the near future. That opportunity arose when Newcastle were on the search for their first manager since the Saudi takeover, with Howe chosen to lead the club into a new era. He joined a side that were struggling in a relegation battle with no real identity.
The subsequent January transfer window of 2022 was integral. They signed experienced English right-back Kieran Tripper from Atlético Madrid, Dan Burn from Brighton & Hove Albion and striker Chris Wood from fellow relegation rivals Burnley. The most impressive of the lot though was the acquisition of Lyon’s midfield maestro Bruno Guimaraes. According to Sky Sports, the Magpies fended off interest from some of Europe’s elite including Arsenal, Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain for his signature.
Guimaraes has rarely put a foot wrong in the black and white stripes and he quickly asserted himself as a fan favourite. The Magpies started to build an exciting team with a rejuvenated Joelinton at the centre of their good work. The Brazilian had previously been utilised as a striker which wasn’t his game and he didn’t come cheap either when he joined from Hoffenheim for a reported fee of £40 million.
Howe converted him to a midfielder and he hasn’t look back since, with Joelinton and Guimaraes controlling the midfield with their power and aggression. Howe also has to be credited for the players that he has improved while he has been at St. James’ Park.
Joelinton is one example but the other is the resurgence of Miguel Almirón. Previously, the Paraguayan winger was a good player but that clinical finishing touch – something that is certainly not the case now. At the time of writing, Almirón has nine goals in 18 Premier League games, the same amount he amassed in his first 110 Premier League games. Under Howe, he has been given much more freedom than he previously had and the 28-year-old was awarded the Premier League player of the month award for October.
Last summer’s additions to the squad were very shrewd. Sven Botman joined from Lille after a number of impressive years in France, while Nick Pope was a smart signing following Burnley’s relegation. Their biggest signing of the window was Real Sociedad striker Alexander Isak for £63 million. The Swede is returning after a spell on the sidelines with injury but when he does come back, he will be a real threat for Premier League defences.
At the time of writing, the Magpies sit in third place after two consecutive draws against Leeds United and Arsenal. The latter was impressive and showed what Howe’s side is all about. They were hard to beat and hard to break down, while staying extremely compact to limit Arsenal’s attacking threats. This season, they have beaten Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea as well as draws against Manchester United and Manchester City.
It remains to be seen if Newcastle are to remain in the Champions League places but if they are to do so, they may have to strengthen in the January transfer window. Even if the Magpies are to secure some kind of European football, it would be a magnificent achievement for a team that one year ago, were fighting relegation.