Alex Keble assesses the two-man shortlist for the Newcastle job as Unai Emery has doubts and Eddie Howe emerges as the leading candidate...
"Both Emery and Howe are strong candidates. Both come with risks. That is an unavoidable condition of any appointment Newcastle United will make at this vulnerable, and pivotal, moment in their history."
So much attention was given to the similarities between Manchester City's takeover in 2008 and Newcastle United's in 2021 - particularly with regards to human rights violations and the ethical concerns of state-owned football clubs - we forgot just how hard it actually was to build a super-club. The City Football Group made it look so easy, didn't they?
Newcastle's new owners have suffered a bumpy start, but even setting aside the difficulty of avoiding relegation after failing to win any of their first ten league games, reports emerging on Wednesday morning suggest things aren't rosy at boardroom level either. Whereas City put all the right people in place, Amanda Staveley and company are starting to look like they're playing Football Manager.
Unai Emery is having doubts, per Guillem Balague, although conflicting reports suggest there is still time for Newcastle to approach Villarreal, get their blessing, and seal the deal. But what was most alarming about Balague's update this morning was that Emery is apparently concerned by a lack of vision from the top:
"The different number and style of the candidates being considered appears to be a sign of a confused vision," Balague said. "That was a concern to some of those involved in conversations with the club hierarchy.
"#MCFC brought the best people in each department. At the moment that is not happening at #NUFC. If you want Unai, do you approach it in such a rushed way, without an official offer and leaking that is all practically done?"
Their long search for a new manager is beginning to resemble Tottenham Hotspur's debacle in the summer, and we all know how that fatally undermined the eventual hire Nuno Espirito Santo. It looks as though there are legs in this story yet, with Eddie Howe the other potential candidate in a two-man shortlist, per the Athletic.
Here's a look at what each would bring to Newcastle:
Unai Emery's Arsenal record looks better in hindsight: in his only full season in charge he came fifth, signifcantly better than Mikel Arteta's successive eighth-place finishes, and reached the Europa League final. His success in Spain shows he is clearly a very talented head coach whose reputation ought not to be tarnished by his difficult time in north London.
The biggest issue is how he would mesh with the new owners, who have already irritated him by leaking details of a proposed move to St. James Park on the day of a big Champions League tie. The sense of an amateurish board will not appeal to a man burned in England and Paris in the past.
But if those issues can be ironed out, then Emery does make sense from a tactical perspective. Newcastle have been a reactive club under Rafael Benitez and Steve Bruce, assembling a squad focused on pragmatism and quick breaks, and so if they are to evolve towards a more progressive team then Emery is the perfect intermediary.
He likes to play sharp one-touch football out from the back, designed to lure the opponent forward to then break into the space behind. A relatively low block is deployed by Emery teams, which then pour forward in incisive counter-attacks piercing through the middle of the pitch. It is a halfway house between defensive caution and possession domination, with players like Callum Wilson, Miguel Almiron, and Allan Saint-Maximin well suited to Emery's vision.
However, the biggest problem is Emery's inexperience coping with a relegation battle. Early in his career Emery twice took charge of relegation candidates (having won promotion himself) and finished in the top ten, which is, of course, entirely different to joining a team mid-season that's mired in the bottom three.
Given the intensive training methods and sharp tactical detail Emery requires, things could go badly wrong without a summer to work with the team. It took a long time for Arsenal's players to understand what was required of them. The Newcastle squad, many of whom will know they won't be at the club much longer, could react badly to Emery's instructions.
Eddie Howe is not the glamorous appointment many supporters will have wanted, but failure to land their top targets could be a blessing in disguise. He is an intelligent coach who consistently overachieved as Bournemouth manager and, over a number of years, managed to stave off relegation against the odds by playing a conservative brand of counter-attacking football that suits the squad.
Newcastle's biggest issue is matching their ambitious long-term project with short-term concerns that require a very different approach, and that's what makes Howe such an intriguing option. He is capable of coaching in a more expansive and entertaining style, as he showed in his first couple of years as Bournemouth manager in the Premier League, while the 43-year-old is also renowned for innovations in training and facilities.
He is an holistic manager who could oversee a culture shift from relegation candidates to a forward-thinking top-ten club. It should not be forgotten that he took Bournemouth from League Two to the top flight.
It is no wonder he has turned down several jobs over the last year because he didn't believe in the structure of the club; this is a project manager who, in the right environment, can achieve something special.
However, admittedly there are question marks over his transfer dealings. Bournemouth consistently wasted money. A director of football, which Newcastle hope to appoint soon, would need to have control over this side of the club should Howe come in.
Both Emery and Howe are strong candidates. Both come with risks. That is an unavoidable condition of any appointment Newcastle United will make at this vulnerable, and pivotal, moment in their history.
Right now, Howe looks the more sensible - and more likely - option.
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