“They did not anticipate qualifying for the Champions League.”
Despite not daring to dream that they would be playing in Europe’s premier club competition next season, that’s exactly what Newcastle will be doing after securing a top-four finish against Leicester on Monday Night Football.
Eddie Howe has guided the Magpies back into the Champions League group stages for the first time in 20 years in just his first full season in charge at St James’ Park.
The achievement also comes in the Saudi owners’ first full campaign since buying the club from Mike Ashley in October 2021, during which they have overseen a transformation in the team’s performances and the atmosphere within the stadium.
But Champions League qualification creates new challenges for Howe and Newcastle – first of which is how best to equip the squad to compete with the likes of Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Napoli.
With just one game to play this season – away to Chelsea on Sunday – Sky Sports News reporter Keith Downie gives his verdict on what Newcastle fans can expect ahead of a busy, yet exciting summer…
What does qualifying for the Champions League mean for Newcastle?
It will mean everything for them.
If you ask anyone involved, they will tell you it’s ahead of schedule. They did not anticipate qualifying for the Champions League. Eddie Howe was asked at the start of the season what he wanted to achieve and he said he just didn’t want to be involved in a relegation battle.
Privately, he probably wanted a bit more than that. I think people behind the scenes would have been more than happy with a Europa League or Europa Conference League finish.
It’s moving the project on quicker than expected and you need to just roll with that. Obviously it changes a lot of things financially in terms of the evolution of the club.
You’re hardly going to turn around and say no to the Champions League, are you? It’s testament to the job Howe and his backroom staff have done.
Does Champions League qualification alter Howe’s summer transfer window budget?
He’ll have more to spend.
They were sailing very close to the wind when it came to financial fair play (FFP) in January. They just managed to sign Anthony Gordon and no more.
It pushes back the FFP boundaries. It’s essentially free prize money they are able to spend that they didn’t have before.
You’ve then got the TV revenue they can spend, plus there’s going to be a lot more sponsorship opportunities. This will allow Howe to spend more in the summer and improve the squad more than would have been the case.
It’s hugely different for them and a real boost.
Does the squad have the depth to compete in the Premier League and Champions League?
At the moment, no. Howe’s asked the same 15, 16 players to go again, week after week this season. You can just about get away with that when it’s only Premier League football you’re playing but if you look at the players now, they’re tired.
There’s five or six players in that squad that haven’t really contributed in terms of minutes. You can’t have that in your 25-man squad if you’re competing on two fronts.
What he needs is a strong squad with a standard of player that can play in the Champions League and Premier League.
You’re looking at five or six players in the summer. He needs another centre-back. Jamaal Lascelles may go so they need someone to compete with Fabian Schar.
The priority is a holding midfielder. They’re playing Bruno Guimaraes in there at the moment but he wants to play further forward. They may also want a No 8, a box-to-box-type midfielder and another centre-forward, because they only have Callum Wilson and Alexander Isak.
For Newcastle supporters looking ahead to the transfer window, I think it’s an exciting time. I don’t think they’re going to go out and spend £250-300m but I can see them buying another three, four players of the standard of a Sven Botman or Kieran Trippier. Players around the £20-40m mark.
They know if they don’t do that, the squad is far too thin to compete in the Champions League and the Premier League.