Fueled by the financial might of the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, Newcastle United made their long-awaited return to the UEFA Champions League on September 12, 2023, when they faced AC Milan.
This momentous occasion marked their first appearance in the competition in two decades, signaling their aspiration for a renewed prominence on the European stage.
A New Dawn for Newcastle
For much of the past twenty years, Newcastle had been more acquainted with the English Championship than the lofty heights of European elite football.
However, under the influence of substantial backing from the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF), the club harbored dreams of emulating Manchester City’s transformation of Gulf state support into domestic and international success.
A Reality Check
Initially, Newcastle seemed ahead of schedule when they secured a top-four spot in the Premier League during their first full season with PIF’s majority ownership.
However, the early stages of the new season were a harsh reminder of the challenges ahead.
Eddie Howe’s team suffered consecutive defeats to Manchester City, Liverpool, and Brighton before narrowly clinching a 1-0 win over Brentford.
Despite Saudi Arabia’s ability to attract some of football’s biggest stars with lucrative contracts, Newcastle’s spending in the transfer market remained modest due to financial fair play regulations.
Notably, players like Harvey Barnes, Tino Livramento, and Sandro Tonali were brought in, but the club didn’t engage in extravagant spending as expected.
Tonali’s Transfer Reflects Changing Dynamics
Sandro Tonali’s transfer from AC Milan to Newcastle exemplified the shifting dynamics in European football.
Even a seven-time European champion like Milan couldn’t resist the financial allure of the Premier League, even after reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League the previous season.
Tonali’s return to the starting lineup for Newcastle’s upcoming match symbolizes his significance to the squad.
A Tough Group and Nights of Glamour
Both Newcastle and AC Milan recognize the importance of a strong start in Group F, which includes Paris Saint-Germain and Borussia Dortmund, making it one of the most challenging sections in this season’s draw.
These are the glamorous European nights that Newcastle fans had longed for during the club’s less eventful 14-year tenure under previous owner Mike Ashley.
Howe’s Confidence in the Face of European Challenges
Eddie Howe, despite acknowledging the formidable opposition, remains undaunted by the prospect of managing in his first Champions League campaign.
He believes that Newcastle, accustomed to the rigorous demands of the Premier League, is well-prepared to compete at a higher level in European competition.
The Premier League Standard
Howe asserted, “I don’t see it being a huge difference, to be honest. You’re preparing against teams that are from Europe rather than England, (but) for me, the Premier League is the best league in the world.” He expressed his admiration for the Premier League and its unique qualities, emphasizing that the transition to European football, while different, is still an exciting challenge.
Aiming for Consistency
Newcastle United aspires to establish a consistent presence at Europe’s top table, much like Manchester City, who, under Abu Dhabi-backed ownership, became perennial participants in the Champions League since 2011.
This return to the Champions League marks the beginning of a new era for Newcastle, aligned with Saudi ambitions to leave an indelible mark on European football.
Newcastle’s journey into the Champions League represents a significant transformation for a club that had languished in mediocrity for years.
The injection of Saudi wealth has sparked newfound optimism and ambitions.
The challenges in Europe’s premier club competition will test their mettle, but the Magpies are eager to prove their worth on the continental stage, guided by experienced figures like Eddie Howe.