Newcastle United’s remarkable 2022/23 season has somehow managed to fly under the radar.
Perhaps it was the astonishing improvement Arsenal, which saw the Gunners rise from 5th to the brink of the title, or maybe the fact for only the second time in history a treble was won this time by Manchester City.
Undoubtedly the club’s ownership, the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, played a role in an unwillingness to give the Magpies credit.
And, while it should not be forgotten that few teams can match either the finances and clear plan for success the wealthy backers have provided, the job Eddie Howe did was still incredible.
Indeed, many forget that even after the club’s first transfer spending spree in the winter of 2022 the prognosis from legendary striker Alan Shearer was that it remained in deep trouble.
“Newcastle are in a very fortunate position in terms of what they’ve got financially now, and the players that they signed, but they need more in,” he said at the time.
“The evidence is there for all to see. There’s every chance we will be relegated but that’s where they are.
“Newcastle’s spend at the minute is great because we haven’t seen that for such a long time but the harsh reality is they need a lot more, let’s see.”
As Shearer’s quotes show, that Newcastle United survived was impressive enough in itself.
But to follow that with Champions League qualification is almost unheard of.
You have to go back to Leicester City’s Premier League title win in 2015 to find a season-on-season improvement which compares.
A whopping 22 more points were accumulated by the Magpies in 2022/23 than it managed the year before.
The key difference from Leicester City is that this astonishing improvement is not likely to be the endpoint.
Whereas the Foxes had instrumental stars like N’Golo Kante and Riyad Mahrez gradually picked up by rivals, Newcastle will be strengthening.
It’s less a case of can the Magpies maintain the standards which have been set and more about if the club is now a nailed-on member of the Premier League’s elite.
An indication the latter may prove to be true could be found in the words of manager Eddie Howe days after Champions League soccer was secured for the next season.
Rather than wasting time celebrating a return to Europe’s top competition for the first time in 20 years, Howe was already thinking about the upcoming campaign.
“To be honest, for me, it’s onto planning and preparing for next season straight away, really, because once the season ends the players will break and I won’t see them again, so there’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes,” he said.
“But I think it’s an incredible achievement, and so pleased that we were able to do it in front of our supporters and get it done there, and the scenes after were brilliant to be part of.”
A Whole New Ball Game
Howe spent last season walking a tightrope between managing expectations and raising them.
Next year will be even tougher. Recent performances will mean many will expect the club to challenge for the title and have a decent run in the Champions League.
As a manager who is well-documented as having no experience at the highest level, it will be interesting to see how Howe approaches it.
When asked directly about another leap in demands Howe replied: “I don’t know if it’s something you look forward to – the dynamic will have changed for us.
“I think we’ve massively overachieved this year for where we were at the start of the season, and to keep overachieving – and that’s what we’re going to have to do, to match the expectation – is going to be our biggest challenge,” he added.
Already plans are afoot to arm Howe with an even more impressive roster than was available last time out.
AC Milan midfielder Sandro Tonali is poised to become the club’s first major signing of the summer and there is talk of the club returning to bid for James Maddison for whom two offers were rejected last year.
More will be required and are likely to arrive with the club facing a great deal more fixtures thanks to the Champions League.
But prestige also brings pressure.
Unlike last season, when Newcastle United was an exciting newcomer, the North East giants will be a scalp for the taking.
Clubs will approach games against the Magpies differently, perhaps showing greater respect, but also a desire to knock them off of their perch.
Being able to handle that challenge whilst also battling it out with Europe’s best is what separates the truly elite from the very good.
Of benefit to Newcastle United in that quest is the attitude of its manager who is taking nothing for granted.
“We start with zero next season, so that’s a healthy way to look at it,” he said of the upcoming campaign.
“We have to prove ourselves all over again.
“If we can add one or two players that can make the difference in the transfer market that would be good news.”