EVERTON have spent more than £53m on Jordan Pickford and Davy Klaasen, Leicester City shelled out £17m to sign Harry Maguire, and Bournemouth are about to commit £20m to the capture of Nathan Ake.

That is the financial reality of life in the Premier League, a division where each and every club is guaranteed a minimum income of at least £100m, so if Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley thinks he can continue to plunder the footballing bargain bins this summer, he is going to have a rude awakening. Given the rumblings emanating from those close to Rafael Benitez, he could also find himself having to appoint a new manager if he remains wedded to the policies of the past.

These are still early days in terms of this summer’s transfer window, but when it comes to Newcastle, the signs are hardly encouraging. We have been here before, and it has generally ended badly.

Benitez’s misgivings about this month’s failure to land a succession of transfer targets are reminiscent of similar noises that have been apparent throughout Ashley’s reign. Promises are made, and then either broken or altered. Ambitions start at a sky-high level, but are quickly scaled down.

Ashley might have promised Benitez “every last penny that the club generates through promotion, player sales and other means” when he persuaded the Spaniard to remain in his post at the start of the summer, but he didn’t say how the money would be spent or outline who would be responsible for spending it.

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FRUSTRATED: Newcastle United boss Rafael Benitez

The hope was that promotion would spark a radical departure from the parsimony of the past, but it increasingly looks as though Newcastle’s methodology in the transfer market remains largely unaltered. Just because Graham Carr has gone, it doesn’t mean Ashley and Lee Charnley are any more likely to loosen the purse strings.

The fact that Florian Lejeune has still not been signed is alarming, as the noises coming out of Spain suggest Eibar officials have been surprised by Newcastle’s haggling over the minutiae of a deal that should have been simple to execute once the defender’s £8.7m buyout clause was triggered.

The situation with Tammy Abraham is slightly different as Chelsea’s reservations about the midfielder joining Newcastle meant it was always going to be difficult to strike a deal. Competing interest from Swansea and Brighton muddied the water, but those close to the discussions still believe Abraham would have been a Newcastle player by now had the Magpies put their money where their mouth was at an early stage of proceedings. At one stage, even Benitez seemed to believe that a deal was as good as done.

Is Ashley’s desire to either sell or attract investment making him unwilling to commit serious resources to this summer’s rebuild? Some fans fear so, but it is unlikely. Yes, Charnley has been in China speaking to potential investors, but Ashley knows the current squad is not strong enough to survive in the Premier League and Charnley has been charged with the task of signing players to rectify the situation. Money is available, whether there are takeover talks running in parallel or not.

A more convincing explanation for the current stagnation is that Newcastle are merely plotting a course they have charted so often in the past. Entice a selling club into negotiations, and then try to drive down the price. Prioritise markets where clubs will be willing to do a deal. Play hard-ball if things get difficult, and refuse to be played off against a rival party. And when push comes to shove, always be willing to push the nuclear button and walk away rather than pay £1-2m over the odds.

It is Ashley’s modus operandi in all his other business dealings, and it can be argued it has worked in Newcastle’s favour in the past. It helps explain why there were able to sign Yohan Cabaye for £4.5m and Moussa Sissoko for £1.5m.

The latter of those transfers took place four years ago, but even since then, the Premier League market-place has changed out of all recognition. Back in 2013, it would have been unthinkable for Bournemouth to be paying a £20m fee or Huddersfield breaking their transfer record to sign an £11m striker from Ligue 1. Newcastle could drive a hard bargain knowing their rivals were incapable of outflanking them. That is not the case anymore.

Newcastle’s transfer record, incidentally, is still the £18m they spent on Michael Owen 12 years ago, and the fact that barrier remains unbroken under Ashley is indicative of a reluctance to embrace the changing reality of English football’s finances.

The Northern Echo: Michael Owen


This summer, £17m is the new £7m, and if Ashley is unwilling to accept that, problems will ensue. That doesn’t mean spending money with thoughtless extravagance, and it doesn’t mean a return to the days when Newcastle were squandering millions on long-term contracts for 30-somethings with no prospect of a financial return.

However, it does demand greater flexibility in negotiations, as well as an acceptance that if Newcastle are to outflank their rivals in the ‘middle tier’ of Premier League clubs, they are almost certainly going to have to break the £20m barrier to sign the type of player they would once have regarded as within their domain.

Benitez knows that, and that is why he is becoming increasingly agitated at Newcastle’s negotiating stance. It remains to be seen whether Ashley and Charnley have also grasped the new reality of the world in which they are operating.