William Shakespeare famously wrote 'All that glitters is not gold'. But many stopped there and forgot that it was part of a passage that went on to say a lot more about how desperate people will accept any opportunity even when common sense screams at them from the four corners of the world.
Fifty six days, if you include the seven days that Jason Tindall spent as head coach, into his tenure at Newcastle United and already you can see Eddie Howe’s hand in effect. The win over Burnley is the obvious indicator but so is the fact that somehow, shockingly, the Magpies didn’t get blown off the field by either Manchester City or Liverpool. That is two out of three title challengers this season and while they eventually scored a combined seven goals, the Magpies weren’t blown off the field.
And given the current team that Eddie Howe has at his disposal, you’d expect them to lose by a combined scoreline well into the double figures which on its own is a positive. The fact that Howe has managed to win a game with a team that is still filled with players who are, beyond a select few, effectively at a Championship level is shocking. The fact that Steve Bruce actually managed to keep them up in his two-and-a-half-year spell is even more shocking and credit to the manager that he is.
Not the fancy pants, highbrow, expansive football-playing boss but more the low-block wielding, defense-first kinda boss which is not something the Magpies’ new owners wanted. Thus in walked Eddie Howe and his coaching staff but for Howe, this job is the furthest thing from secure. He may have only just broken in his brand-new chair, may have only just sorted out his new office and gotten rid of the previous regime’s look but even then, his job is not secure.
That’s the life of a football manager and especially one plying their trade in a world where time is the biggest unknown. The world and the Geordie fanbase, want results and their lovely team to be Kevin Keegan’s entertainers again and given the eerily similarities, it might just happen. Keegan, for those who don’t remember, joined the Magpies eight years after retiring with the club in the second tier and battling against relegation.
Somehow, he kept them up and then got them promoted in his first full-year before going on to create arguably the most entertaining team the league has ever seen. But while the world knows the story, there is one key difference between the man lauded as the messiah at St James’ Park and Eddie Howe. It’s the fact that, in his first spell, Keegan got all – or rather most – of his transfers spot on. From David Ginola, Les Ferdinand, Andy Cole, Shaka Hislop to Peter Beardsley, Chris Holland and a few others.
It was partly Keegan’s allure and his enthusiasm for the job, and partly the fact that the Magpies genuinely looked like title challengers. Yet in Howe’s case, he doesn’t particularly have the allure of a mid-table side, let alone a title challenger and neither does he have the greatest history when it does indeed come to transfers. The latter is especially the case when money is involved. Both Dominic Solanke and Jordan Ibe are at the top of the iffy list alongside Asmir Begovic, Lys Mousset and a few others.
But it hasn’t been all bad as the likes of David Brooks, Callum Wilson, Ryan Fraser, Aaron Ramsdale and a few others are all obvious statements to his success. And yet when you’re playing with – theoretically – around £200 million, you can’t have a hit and miss strategy. The appointment of Nick Hammond – Reading’s former Sporting Director – on a short-term deal should help a bit but the future is where things lie and at the moment, with the richest owners in European football, the Magpies have lofty goals.
Surviving relegation is the main and obvious target this season one would think but the eventual guess is that they are no doubt aiming for the stars. Maybe they see a Premier League title in their near future or a European trophy – even if it is the Europa Conference League – but they’ve got stars in their eyes. And when you’ve got a theoretical starting transfer budget of around £200 million, everyone has got stars in their eyes.
It's exactly why this is make or break for Howe especially if he wants to survive beyond the end of this season. Because if one thing is certain in January, beyond the fact that players will cost ten times the normal fee for Newcastle, it’s that Eddie Howe’s entire future rests on 31 days of work. Not just because they’ve got five back-to-back games that could potentially decide their season but because he has arguably the biggest conundrum a football manager – outside of video games – has ever faced in their lives.
The closest a team has come was Manchester City, AC Milan, Everton, Leeds United, QPR and Chelsea in recent history but only two of those clubs are actually successful right now and have been successful post a takeover. The rest just happen to be a lesson in how not to spend money. And yet, somehow, there is still a looming question over Newcastle’s January window. Because right now, the Magpies sit one point behind 17th place Burnley and three behind 16th place Watford.
That’s with just twenty games left on their dance cards and we’re already halfway through the season but the bookmakers have given them shockingly good survival odds. It’s why the situation and their future is so bloody murky because absolutely nobody knows what to do. This is the one timeline that no club on the planet has been in, at least in the recent past, and thus it means that there is no blooded blueprint to use and deliver glory.
Do they sign defensive behemoths to shore by a backline that has, at the time of writing, conceded a genuinely ridiculous and league high 41 goals? Naturally but what about the fact that Callum Wilson, their top scorer, has six goals despite missing 48 days of action and has still scored more than Allan Saint-Maximin, Joelinton, Dwight Gayle, Miguel Almiron, Joe Willock, Jacob Murphy and Jonjo Shelvey combined?
Spending a club record £40m on a striker for him to turn out to be an absolutely mint midfield enforcer may be one of the most Newcastle United things I can imagine— A L B I N O (@Sweeninho9) December 20, 2021
So, buy a new striker as well then, not the talented Elijah Adebayo who has scored 10 goals, in 20 Championship games, or the Championship god in Aleksandr Mitrovic but someone. But they’ve got £200 million and Barcelona need money so why not sign Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele plus some dude from Porto and throw them into this relegation hellscape? It might work, it might not work and yet it just might work because this is all new to us, remember?
Either way, one thing is most definitely certain and that’s how one Mr Eddie Howe is standing on a proverbial lake with its ice about inches away from breaking. But he does have help, a zipline that may or may not lead him into the Darkest Timeline or take his chances and find his way across the ten meter long lake without making a single false move. All the while his new bosses watch on with a gleeful delight on their faces at something that looks like it came out of the minds of those who create content for Netflix.
The question is, what does he do right now?
Because the answer for Newcastle United is simple. They could, and very well might, sack him tomorrow if someone more expansive, with far more charisma and an enthralling nature popped up. Someone like the Special One. All the while Howe is forced to watch as a once bright future disappears.