The demands of European football will not catch Newcastle United unawares. Chief Sports Writer Mark Douglas investigates the positives and pitfalls of United’s probable Continental adventure.
DEREK Llambias was back at the Newcastle United training ground yesterday afternoon.
Where once these whistlestop visits from United’s managing director would have prompted anxiety from a Tyneside public permanently braced for the next bad news story, now they can allow themselves to dream a little.
Llambias’ presence is no longer a reason for Newcastle’s long-suffering support to presume the worst, and yesterday’s informal summit with boss Alan Pardew is a sign that United are alive to the possibilities their terrific season presents.
Inevitably, plans have been changed now that Andy Carroll – the Geordie gift that keeps on giving – has scored the goal that all but guarantees Europa League football for his former club.
The Journal understands that United’s probable European adventure means the club will now be plotting a different route this summer – one that opens doors to substantial squad strengthening as opposed to the “one or two” blue-chip performers they were originally looking to recruit.
For a start, plans for pre-season are on ice until United know where they are with regards to Europe. A long-haul tour is on the cards but the Far East will have to wait if Newcastle are saddled with pre-qualifying for one of the Continent’s two knockout competitions.
Then there is the recruitment drive that has been months in the planning. Newcastle are aiming to bring in “four or five” players capable of challenging for a first team spot, with a number in the Mehdi Abeid mould to bubble away under the first-team squad.
What hasn’t been finalised yet – and what might well have been the subject of yesterday’s detailed discussions – is what happens if United’s brilliant season reaps a top four prize.
Quite simply, no-one had made detailed plans for a Champions League campaign at this point. Even at the start of the month it seemed no more than a pipe dream, but Newcastle’s spring surge, combined with the collapse of Tottenham, has made it necessary for United to start assembling a contingency.
It offers brilliant possibilities, of course, but also some pitfalls that United – in the age of sensible stewardship down at St James’ Park – are eager to dodge.
Any estimations need to be couched in caveats. Newcastle sit fifth and even though the portents might look positive they remain outsiders in the chase for the Champions League, their inexperience a possible problem against opponents who have done all of this before.
But United’s new trinity of Llambias, Graham Carr and Pardew are not the sort to leave anything to chance.
Along with finance director John Irving they will be crunching the numbers and assessing where Newcastle’s new-found status at European contenders will leave them before this summer’s transfer scramble.
One respected football finance expert believes that Newcastle would be in line to bank at least £17million of extra revenue if they made it into the group stages of the Champions League.
That figure could rise to an eye-watering £20m if United land one of the big guns and ensure full houses for all of their home fixtures.
Vinay Bedi, of highly respected investment management firm Brewin Dolphin, believes that earning a place at Europe’s top table would be a bona fide game changer for United.
“The premise of football is Champions League gets you everywhere and the rest are nowhere,” he said.
“If you can consistently be in that group it completely changes the whole perspective of the business. Even just a one-off visit is very nice. It really does just kick on the whole football club and bring in some serious amounts of revenue.
“If you can get there and get a couple of wins in the group stages you are talking about substantial amounts of money. It is £600,000 for a win in the group stages – and that is just prize money.
“Newcastle will actually make more money from winning a couple of games than if they win the Europa League, which is a sobering statistic. It is a massive, massive difference.
“Rangers made something in the region of £17.5million by making it through to the group stages a couple of years ago.
“Now with Newcastle and the potential for full houses, it is realistic to say they could make £20million by qualifying for the group stages and winning even one or two games.”
An extra £20m would be huge for a club that recently posted turnover figures of £88.4million. To put it in perspective, their entire match day revenue in 2010/11 was £24.3million.
Of course there is a flip-side, hence the club’s main men starting to discuss the ramifications of completing their supposed Mission: Impossible.
Leeds United remain the elephant in the room when it comes to the Champions League – proof that chasing the dream can be extremely costly.
A squad strengthening programme must be a managed process, and if players are recruited on long and costly contracts that cash must be accounted for. It is difficult to see Mike Ashley deviating from the current path, however. Beday thinks it unlikely.
“Newcastle, like any club, have got to be extremely careful,” he said. “I bow to the knowledge of my friends who are Newcastle supporters who say they would need to strengthen their squad if they were to get into the Champions League but practically, that creates issues.
“There is the burden of extra wages and of course, Leeds managed to bankrupt themselves signing players with money they thought would be coming in from the Champions League.
“It looks as though Mike Ashley is running things prudently though, so I would not see that as a problem.”