By standing firm to Bayern over Trippier, Newcastle have underlined their progress


The message from on high at St James’ Park was definitive, or as definitive as it gets in a month of shifting priorities, sly opportunism and quicksand foundations; Kieran Trippier was not for sale.

It was a message delivered when Bayern Munich’s interest in the England full-back first emerged and it was repeated ad nauseam in the days thereafter. The first man through the door for the new Newcastle United was going nowhere.

Certainties can fragment during transfer windows. We are a way distant from that deflating era when Alan Pardew said of Andy Carroll, “We have to have a big-club mentality and hold on to our best players,” only for the Geordie wrecking ball to leave for Liverpool for £35million a few weeks later (and, exploding head emoji, be replaced by 34-year-old Shefki Kuqi on a free), but the point remains that life comes at you fast and everybody, ultimately, has a price.

Post-takeover, Newcastle now have the mentality, means and ambition to hold on to their best players, but there is still a glass ceiling above Tyneside, which is otherwise known as the Premier League’s profit and sustainability rules (PSR). At some stage — and it is careering towards them at pace — the diligence and expertise they have put into becoming good buyers will need to be deployed in the other direction. They cannot become better without selling well.

There has been a flavour of that this month, a curious reversal where Newcastle, who have spent prodigiously over the last couple of years, have almost been besieged. Internally, it has not felt like that; whatever their concerns about a lack of financial wiggle room and avoiding the charges that confront Everton, Nottingham Forest and Manchester City over alleged PSR breaches, there is no fire sale under way.

Yet it is fair to suggest that Newcastle have at least extended a finger in the air to test the prevailing wind; if there is a market for their players, who would it be (Miguel Almiron, for example?) and for what price? There are short and long-term agendas at play; a desire to ease the burden on Eddie Howe and his squad, which has been stretched to translucency by injuries and Sandro Tonali’s suspension, and a recognition that a summer overhaul lies ahead.

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One difference from previous Januarys and something which has featured in recruitment conversations; what and where is the imperative? Two years ago, Newcastle had no choice but to go big because the only alternative was relegation. Twelve months on, they hurried forward their pursuit of Anthony Gordon, in part to take advantage of Everton’s chaotic finances and to strengthen their claims on the top four. But what is the big idea right now?

To date, very little has actually happened, barring Javier Manquillo rejoining Rafa Benitez, the former Newcastle manager, at Celta Vigo. Yet, in a different way, this has already been a statement window. Trippier’s arrival kicked off the first one, an England international fresh from winning La Liga with Atletico Madrid. He saw enough in Newcastle’s (theoretical) story to join the fray of a relegation battle without an escape clause in his contract.

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Trippier joined Newcastle in January 2022 (Serena Taylor/Newcastle United via Getty Images)

Bruno Guimaraes and Sven Botman represented other significant moments; young talents snapped up before more established clubs were able or willing to make a move for them. Alexander Isak was more of a known quantity but Newcastle blew away their transfer record to sign him, paying Real Sociedad around £60million ($76m). When they bought Tonali last summer, they took the midfielder from AC Milan, an elite club, with his prime years ahead of him.

These, by the way, are not Newcastle’s statements — they’re simply attempting to improve — but by standing firm to Bayern, they have passed another staging post. They have shown they will not be pushed around and that they can keep who they want or need to keep. In the past, having the intention was not enough; time after time under Mike Ashley’s ownership good players agitated to move, knowing full well that titles or improving or big pay rises were not on the agenda.

There has been no sign of that from Trippier, even if you could understand why, at 33, Bayern might be a tempter; serial trophy-winners in Germany, guaranteed Champions League football, a chance to fire in crosses for Harry Kane, his old team-mate from Tottenham Hotspur. For good measure, you can throw in a spell of moderate form for Newcastle, some uncharacteristic blunders and the personal reasons that brought him home early from the England squad late last year.

Bayern low-balled Newcastle, came back again and finally stuck on an offer of €15million (£12.8m, $16.2m). This was never going to test their determination to keep arguably their most important player, not just for what he brings on the pitch but off it, too. Here, friendships kicked in. “We’re such good mates,” one member of Newcastle’s hierarchy said, speaking anonymously in order to do so freely. “Our relationship with Kieran is very strong.”

If Bayern pulled at Trippier, then Newcastle pulled back. Yes, they signed Tino Livramento last summer, a player they view as his long-term replacement, but that was no reflection on Trippier, someone they see as having a pivotal role over the next two or three seasons. They want him to lead the dressing room in the way he has since day one, when he immediately set standards. They assured him there is no let up in their ambition. They want him to drive them on.

It has never been sufficient to point at Livramento’s very obvious talent and be sanguine about Trippier leaving. Countless anecdotes from the training ground spell out his importance in terms of leadership, but the numbers demonstrate just how fundamental he still is to the way Newcastle play. Trippier is not just their right-back and a defender, he is their most creative player (more so than Guimaraes), involved in everything positive they do and their set-piece specialist.

Trippier has created more chances from open play than any Newcastle player this season, more big chances, made way more successful crosses including corners (53 compared to Gordon’s nine, who is next on the list), and way more successful open-play crosses. He has expected assists of 6.11 this season (I can’t even bluff about knowing what that means), more than double anybody else (and second-best in the Premier League), more assists and more touches.

Nobody in the division has played more passes into the box than Trippier’s 222. Nobody has crossed more often successfully, while only two players — Ollie Watkins and Mohamed Salah — have set up more goals than him. At some stage, the team will mutate and develop, and there will be other strengths, styles and outlets, but all this illustrates why Newcastle have been so determined that he should stay.

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Trippier is fundamental to the way Newcastle play (Michael Regan/Getty Images)

The way PSR is framed and with Newcastle years behind their immediate rivals in terms of commercial income, a big sale is pretty much the only way to facilitate big expenditure. Just as every signing is a risk, no matter how detailed your due diligence is, so judging when to sell is a delicate business. When it happens it is going to hurt, because this is a club with a painful history of losing the family silver. Fans still sing, “Don’t sell (Yohan) Cabaye.”

The sea-change is that Newcastle have their sights trained on the top; the dilemma is that getting there is not easy and a bitty, testing season like this one may result in players like Guimaraes developing more quickly than the team. That moment was always going to arrive and becoming good sellers — the right time, the right opportunity to reinvest — is one of the final hurdles the club must vault.

To a greater or lesser extent, those rules apply to everybody. In the dog days of Ashley, with the pandemic biting and the takeover stuck in limbo, they retained players rather than recycling them, a lack of foresight the club is still paying for now, but Trippier is a different case. For a myriad of reasons, the first man through the door became Newcastle’s most important signing for a generation or more. Keeping their tone-setter sets its own tone*.

*Unless he’s sold on deadline day for £35m and replaced by Shefki Kuqi on a free, in which case select all, delete.

(Top photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images)





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