Newcastle in Europe: Glory or Bust

Written by on 31st March 2023

Newcastle fans at Wembley. Credit: Alamy

Would a first continental campaign in a decade mean a season of slog for the Magpies?

Tino Asprilla’s hat-trick against Barcelona. A last minute Papiss Cisse winner against Anzhi Makhachkala. An incredible away trip to the San Siro. Newcastle have already enjoyed their fair share of European highlights, but they have been few and far between in more recent memory.

The Magpies are on the verge of qualifying for a European tournament for the first time since the 2012-13 season. A decade-long drought.

No one could have predicted this incredible run of form – including a cup final – ahead of the season, but there is certainly still a long way to go for Eddie Howe and his men.

St James’ Park. Credit: Andrew Reynolds

It remains to be seen whether Newcastle we will be able to challenge on multiple fronts, or if history is set to repeat itself and a domestic disaster is on its way.

Despite suffering their fifth relegation in club history in 2009, the North East side would go on to finish fifth in the Premier League just three years later, and the hope and ambition amongst fans on Tyneside returned.

Chris Waugh, Newcastle United writer for The Athletic, reflected on the initial atmosphere after qualifying in 2012.

Chris said: “There was huge optimism for the future. They had been regulars in Europe for about 12 years up to 2007. There was real enthusiasm that Newcastle were back with an opportunity to travel around.”

But Newcastle, and more importantly Mike Ashley, failed to capitalise on this strong season in the following transfer window.

“The summer was fraught – Newcastle didn’t sign any senior players apart from Vurnon Anita and that was a concern.

“They didn’t have the depth. The fatigue, the inability to play strong sides both in the league and in Europe meant that the league campaign suffered. It almost spiralled out of control.”

Newcastle would go on to narrowly avoid relegation and finish 16th, just five points above the bottom three. A decade of disappointment and frustration would soon follow, as the club again suffered relegation just three years later.

This lack of ambition is exactly why the Toon Army are merely happy to once again have a team that challenges and shows real passion. Having European football on the horizon is obviously a huge boost, but would it be disappointing for the team to now finish outside of the top eight?

On the possibility of Newcastle not finishing in a European spot, Chris added:

“That would put a negative tinge on what has been an extremely positive season, to be in competition for the Champions League is way ahead of schedule.

“So, I think there will still be positivity, but also a realisation that for Newcastle to kick on and get to the next level, they need a bigger squad with greater depth and they’re going to have to increase their wage budget over time.”

Eddie Howe has effectively been forced to stick to the same core group of players throughout the season – the likes of Sean Longstaff, Dan Burn, Nick Pope, Kieran Trippier and Jacob Murphy have played a part in all 26 of their Premier League fixtures.

As we’ve seen in the past with clubs such as Leicester, Southampton and more recently West Ham, qualifying for Europe – outside of the Champions League – can have a massively detrimental impact on a thin squad, especially if they have overperformed domestically in the previous season.

Olly Hawkins, avid Newcastle supporter and NUFCBlog writer, believes qualifying for the Europa Conference League would bring more positives than negatives.

“It would be more positive if we approached it in the right way. It would give the owners a chance to gradually develop the squad, and give opportunities to those who are currently on the fringes of the first team, like Elliot Anderson.

“We haven’t had European nights at St James’ Park for a decade. It gives us a chance of winning silverware and another opportunity to qualify for the Europa League should our league form struggle.”

Newcastle fans celebrate takeover. Credit: Alamy

This new Saudi-backed ownership will almost certainly have a different approach to continental football than Mike Ashley, with over £200m having already been spent since their arrival in 2021 to put the club in such a strong position.

As explained by Chris Waugh, plans are already in place for the summer, stating that he would be ‘shocked’ if another three, four or five players aren’t added to this current squad with a number also expected to leave.

With the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur all imploding, there will likely be no better opportunity for Newcastle to finish in the top four for the first time in 20 years.

The immediate future looks bright for Newcastle fans, but the long-term project for the club and the direction in which they are headed cannot be underestimated.

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