Eddie Howe Confident Newcastle Can Convert Champions League Promise | Newcastle United

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Eddie Howe would later admit he was not really thirsty but that failed to prevent Newcastle’s manager from unscrewing the top of the small bottle of water in front of him and taking a long, very slow, sip. It was such an obvious timewasting tactic that, by the time he put it back on the table, laughter filled the room.

“I’m conveniently drinking my water,” Howe joked after being asked whether he would prefer to finish in the Premier League’s top four or win the Carabao Cup. The 45-year-old had evidently forgotten that, in an unguarded moment, after last Tuesday night’s Carabao Cup win against Bournemouth, he had admitted: “The Premier League’s our priority.”

And so it surely should be. With Newcastle third as the top tier resumes after its hiatus for the World Cup, a place in next season’s Champions League must feel almost within touching distance for the club’s Saudi Arabian majority owners.

An awful lot can change over the 23 games ahead but Howe appeared cautiously optimistic as he prepared for Monday’s trip to Leicester. “It’s in our hands,” he said. “I’d like to think we’re prepared for what’s coming at us. I’d like to think the team are ready to play in different ways and I don’t mean just system-wise.

“I’m pretty sure the second half of the season will be tougher but that’s healthy. We’re confident; we’ll embrace the challenge.”

Allan Saint-Maximin, Newcastle’s French winger, recently revealed he had spoken to his compatriot Marcus Thuram, the France and Borussia Monchengladbach forward, about the benefits of joining Newcastle. “Thanks Maxi,” said Howe, who expects to finally welcome his £60m Sweden striker Alexander Isak back from injury next month. “Thuram’s one of the players I looked at during the World Cup but that’s as far as it’s gone.

Allan Saint-Maximin on the ball for Newcastle against Bournemouth.
Eddie Howe rubbished suggestions Newcastle could fund new signings by selling Allan Saint-Maximin. Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA

“I don’t know what our window will look like. I’ve got to be careful not to do something that unsettles the group yet you also don’t want it to become stale. But it would be difficult to improve our starting XI without spending serious money and financial fair play rules will make that tough.”

new balance

Howe swiftly debunked suggestions that Newcastle might fund fresh purchases by selling Saint-Maximin. “For me, any time Maxi is unavailable is a disaster because he’s unique,” he said, expressing hope the winger has seen off the hamstring problems which interrupted the season’s first half. “He’s got skills no defender wants to face. Maxi’s a massive player for us and there’s so much more to come from him.

“For me, he’s the best dribbler in the Premier League. He’s got the ability to put any opponent on the back foot. The team performed really well in his absence but he’s undoubtedly got the qualities we’re going to need in the second half of the season. When he’s fully fit, Maxi’s a key player from the off. He’s absolutely not an impact sub.”

In Howe’s ideal word, Saint-Maximin and Brazil’s Bruno Guimarães would be exchanging passes with James Maddison at St James’ Park. Leicester’s England midfielder remains high on Howe’s shopping list and although a deal next month may well be too difficult to complete, he did not dismiss the notion entirely.

“I never talk about other clubs’ players,” said Howe, who, despite frequently showering Jonjo Shelvey with praise, could conceivably sell the playmaker, who certain predecessors found high-maintenance when he was outside the first XI. “But … James Maddison’s been absolutely brilliant this season … he’s a great advert for the Premier League.”

Like it or not, Newcastle are in effect unofficial ambassadors for Saudi Arabia. At some point in the coming months they are expected to attend a warm-weather training camp in the new, lavishly futuristic Red Sea resort rapidly taking shape along the kingdom’s west coast, 300 miles north of Jeddah. It is not intended to merely draw sun-starved northern Europeans towards its glorious winter climate, but to help change international perceptions of the country.

That may seem an unrealistic ambition, but a year ago so too did the idea that Howe and Newcastle would now be giving Jürgen Klopp, Erik ten Hag, Antonio Conte, Graham Potter and company genuine cause for concern.



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