WHEN Bruno Guimaraes conducted his first press conference as a Newcastle United player in January 2022, he boldly claimed that he was joining a club that was capable of competing in the Champions League.

At the time, with the Magpies struggling in the Premier League relegation zone, the Championship felt like a more likely destination. Yet here we are, less than 18 months on, and Guimaraes’ prophecy has come true. After a remarkable season that has defied expectations at every turn, Newcastle United are back in European football’s premier competition. Who knows where their journey under their new Saudi Arabia-backed ownership group will eventually take them.

Champions League qualification certainly wasn’t on the agenda when the season began last August, although in hindsight, the seeds for the radical transformation that has unfolded over the course of the last nine months had already been sown.

While it would be wrong to claim that Newcastle’s success is solely, or even primarily, down to money, last summer’s transfer business was undeniably a key factor in the club’s subsequent meteoric rise. Nick Pope and Sven Botman arrived to help completely transform a defence that would end the campaign as the strongest in the league, joining Kieran Trippier and Dan Burn, who had been recruited the previous January, and while Alexander Isak might not always have lived up to his club-record tag, he nevertheless made a series of valuable contributions over the course of the season.

Signing players is one thing though; successfully integrating them into a squad that had shown signs of promise in the second half of the previous campaign is quite another. Speak to Eddie Howe about the achievements of the last nine months, and he will point to Newcastle’s pre-season training camp in the Austrian resort of Saalfelden as a hugely-important moment. Amid the picturesque backdrop of the Alps, bonds were formed that would strengthen further over the course of the season and a leadership group began to emerge that would nurture and protect the unity and team spirit that has proved so crucial to the Magpies’ success.

Tucked away in the mountains, Howe and his coaching staff, led by Jason Tindall, who would become a cult figure over the course of the campaign, were able to indoctrinate Newcastle’s squad with their core messages. ‘Intensity is our identity’ became the Magpies’ mantra, highlighting both the high-pressing style that would become their trademark on the pitch and the wholehearted approach to matters both on and off the field that would serve them so well as they embraced the challenges that were to follow. Unlike in so many previous seasons, Newcastle were united from the word go.

An opening-day win over Nottingham Forest delivered a good start, and there was no sense of panic when the Magpies’ next six matches resulted in five draws and a controversial defeat to Liverpool. Nevertheless, Newcastle were in the bottom half of the table when they headed to Fulham at the start of October, but a flamboyant 4-1 win would prove the spark for the autumn surge that took them into a top-four spot by the end of the year.

The Craven Cottage victory was also notable for the two goals from Miguel Almiron – the first, a flicked volley after a pass from Guimaraes, was Newcastle’s Goal of the Season – that began a remarkable run that saw the Paraguayan score seven goals in seven games.

The Northern Echo: Miguel Almiron celebrates after scoring at FulhamMiguel Almiron celebrates after scoring at Fulham (Image: PA)

Various Newcastle players came to the fore at different stages of the campaign, but the autumn was Almiron’s moment to shine, ably supported by Joelinton, who was revelling in his new midfield role, and Guimaraes, who was rapidly evolving into one of the best midfielders in the Premier League.

The strength of Newcastle’s defence was also a key factor in their autumn and winter surge, with the Magpies keeping seven clean sheets in the space of eight games from the end of October to the middle of January. Howe was slightly fortunate in that he was able to name an unchanged back four and goalkeeper for the vast majority of the campaign, but his players responded superbly, with Trippier, Botman, Burn and Fabian Schar all performing brilliantly and Pope delivering a series of performances that earned him a deserved place in England’s World Cup squad.

The World Cup break had the potential to disrupt Newcastle’s season, and Howe admits he was slightly nervous when the action resumed again at Leicester on Boxing Day. He need not have worried. His side scored two goals in the opening seven minutes at the King Power Stadium, and did not look back from that point on.


The January window brought the opportunity for further strengthening, but while Newcastle were linked with a whole host of players, Anthony Gordon proved to be the only senior addition, with Jonjo Shelvey and Chris Wood both calling time on their Magpies careers. Howe expressed concern at the failure to adequately replace Shelvey, and while Newcastle just about got away with their lack of central-midfield numbers, that is clearly an area that needs addressing this summer.

The new year began with a goalless draw at Arsenal that saw Howe accused of adopting the ‘dark arts’ of time wasting and fake injuries, and while the Newcastle boss strenuously defended his approach throughout the season, he might well have taken a degree of pride at the way in which the rest of the country was suddenly sitting up and taking notice of his team. Opposition fans and managers were ruffled; the Magpies had returned to the top table.

The sense of the club being a coming force was reinforced by February’s Carabao Cup final, Newcastle’s first Wembley visit in more than two decades, and while the team’s underperformance against Manchester United was a huge disappointment, the sight of 40,000 Geordies taking over Trafalgar Square and packing out Wembley Way felt like another important staging post on the journey back to the pinnacle of the English game.

The Northern Echo: Newcastle United fans take over Trafalgar Square ahead of the Carabao Cup finalNewcastle United fans take over Trafalgar Square ahead of the Carabao Cup final (Image: The Northern Echo)

The final came amid Newcastle’s poorest run of the season – Pope’s dismissal in the previous game against Liverpool meant he missed out on Wembley, a massive blow that resulted in Loris Karius making a hugely-unexpected debut in the final – and the dismay of failing to fire could have derailed the Magpies’ season entirely.

To their credit, Howe and the rest of his staff were able to refocus minds immediately, culminating in the remarkable 6-1 thrashing of Tottenham that saw Newcastle score five goals in the opening 21 minutes as their supposed rivals for a Champions League spot were ripped apart.

The Spurs win left the Magpies sitting in third position in the table, and came amid similarly impressive displays against West Ham, Brentford and Everton that showcased a counter-attacking swagger that had become something of a trademark style.

Isak and Callum Wilson were dovetailing effectively in attack, Jacob Murphy was emerging as a surprise success story on the right-hand side and Joe Willock was rediscovering the form that had made him such an effective presence during his initial loan spell on Tyneside.

A 4-1 thrashing of Brighton took Newcastle to the brink of a Champions League place, and a top-four finish was secured in an emotional final home game against Leicester that saw St James’ Park transformed into a throbbing cathedral of black-and-white. The post-match scenes, with the players and staff celebrating in front of the euphoric home support, will live long in the memory.

Attention now switches to the future, and the challenge of competing in both the Champions League and Premier League next season. Can Newcastle cope on both fronts? Will the club continue on its upward trajectory? How much money can be spent this summer?

Important questions, but for now, ones that can wait for another day. The story of the 2022-23 season has been one of unbridled success. For once, all associated with Newcastle United can head into the summer with a smile on their face.