By Rob Stewart at the Sports Direct Arena
Newcastle United supporters are dreaming of a return to the Champions League, but club owner Mike Ashley will have to make sure the Magpies do not become victims of their own success.
The Tyneside club are now nicely poised to secure a place among European football’s elite following a 3-0 win over Stoke City that gave them a sixth Premier League victory on the spin.
While everyone else in the upper echelons of English football have been faltering, Newcastle’s rise has been inexorable over the last few weeks and a club who had been readying themselves for Europa League football are now having to put those plans on hold, with a money-spinning Champions League adventure beckoning instead.
Whatever happens, there are bound to be comings and goings on Tyneside in the close season, but the most important thing for sports retail tycoon Ashley will be to keep his key assets out of reach of Newcastle’s rivals following their eye-catching exploits.
|AS IT STANDS...
1. Man Utd
2. Man City
On the field and off it, the stock of his key employees has risen massively throughout this season, but that applies most to manager Alan Pardew, whose services are bound to be coveted this summer.
Pardew does his best to deflect praise for this season’s upturn in fortunes to others around him but there can be no doubting the fact that he has been crucial to Newcastle’s upward mobility.
And that means that even though he has more than four years of his Newcastle contract remaining he will be coveted by other leading clubs - not only in England but abroad as well.
Newcastle fans paid homage to Pardew like they did back in the day with Toon idols Kevin Keegan and Sir Bobby Robson - and rightly so because he makes everything work and his efforts are bound to have aroused interest from big hitters.
Some of his players are also sure to be targeted this summer, with Cheickh Tiote and Tim Krul already being linked to Chelsea, while 16-goal Demba Ba will also able to exploit a £7 million escape clause in a contract that Newcastle will be keen to re-negogiate.
And with 11 goals to his credit already in a Newcastle shirt, who wouldn't be looking at Senegalese striker Papiss Cisse?
The Newcastle hierarchy are already plotting behind the scenes for Europe but they will be mindful of the fact that Pardew’s team have done so well because of the spirit that is clearly evident in the way his players go about their business.
With the possible exception of Hatem Ben Arfa, there are no real superstars in their ranks and that policy of avoiding the stellar signings will continue on Tyneside whether Newcastle make it into the Champions League or not.
That doesn’t mean that they do no need reinforcements, but it will be a case of evolution rather than revolution at the Sports Direct Arena.
There will be no spending spree. There will be no splurge. Newcastle will continue to unearth gems in France and the Netherlands, and maybe start looking further afield.
No one outside the Newcastle boardroom knows how much Ashley would be willing to spend should his club book a place at Europe’s top table. But the general consensus is that he will be prepared to spend £10 million if they have to make do with Europa League and double that if Champions League football comes back to the North-East of England.
Newcastle may have defied expectations this season but it is clear that they could do with a few additions to the squad to make sure that they are not just a flash-in-the-pan team.
They need strengthening at right-back, where Danny Simpson has struggled to silence his doubters; and at centre-half where they need a top-class operator to complement Fabricio Coloccini. Plus they need extra quality on the left wing where the hard-working Jonas Gutierrez flatters to deceive.
|TOP FOUR TOON?
|6/4||Newcastle are now 6/4 with William Hill to finish in the top four this season.|
With that in mind, Newcastle are being linked with PSV Eindhoven full-back Erik Pieters (Davide Santon could switch from left-back to replace Simpson) and FC Twente centre-half Douglas.
And after the Nigerian turned down a new contract, they will no doubt have another attempt to sign Victor Moses this summer - whatever happens to relegation-threatened Wigan Athletic.
Otherwise Newcastle will be looking for up-and-coming talent and squad players to back up the likes of Tiote and Yohan Cabaye, who look peerless in central midfield.
Newcastle will need extra depth next season to fight on four fronts, and they will need to bring in new players because their academy does not seem to be producing the required talent at the moment, a situation that is bound to be a cause for concern.
Ashley has told chief scout Graham Carr that he wants rising stars with a re-sale value to come to Newcastle rather than the megastars such as Michael Owen and Patrick Kluivert, whose arrivals saw the club haemorrhage money under the previous regime.
There is a saying that if it ain’t broke don’t fix it - and that certainly applies to Newcastle.
They are progressing nicely under Pardew, who knows enough about the signing of megastars from his time at West Ham United - when Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano upset the applecart - to know that no one should get too carried away by a place in the Champions League.
Yes, the fans should get excited by the prospect of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi coming to Tyneside. But Pardew and Ashley are too astute to live the dream in the way that Leeds United did, with disastrous consequences, a decade ago.