Eddie Howe has learned to “laugh” at the number of players linked with Newcastle during the transfer window.
In BBC Sport’s daily gossip column alone, it has amounted to more than 40 since the start of January. Such is life when you have wealthy Saudi Arabian owners and a desperate need to improve a squad in order to avoid relegation.
Despite sitting second bottom of the Premier League with only one win this season going into a crucial game at home to fellow strugglers Watford on Saturday, Newcastle have already made some breakthroughs.
The “hard work” that manager Howe has spoken of, alongside head of recruitment Steve Nickson and transfer consultant Nicky Hammond, has led to the signing of England full-back Kieran Trippier from Atletico Madrid, and Burnley striker Chris Wood is close to joining him.
The pair represent a decent start, but the club have yet to sign any centre-backs, which has been the biggest problem on the pitch this season. No club in the Premier League has conceded more goals than Newcastle’s 42.
For the new owners, it is the top priority.
There are many dangers ahead in a January market that one expert calls a “nightmare”, because clubs are reluctant to do business. Then there is the added factor of agents trying to take advantage of Newcastle’s new-found wealth.
Dealing with those issues over the next few weeks could define the club’s season.
‘We don’t have a blank cheque’
Money is not a problem for Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, which owns 80% of Newcastle and is worth hundreds of billions of pounds.
That could prove crucial if the club nears the end of the window and is still looking to add to its squad or, in the case of centre-back target Sven Botman, needs to make one last attempt to convince Lille to sell.
Paying a reported £25m for Wood, who is 30 and has scored three goals this season, might not represent great value, according to some fans. Others point out he is a seasoned Premier League striker who can hit the ground running and whose move to St James’ Park weakens a relegation rival.
Most importantly, according to former Manchester City technical director Mike Rigg, who guided the club’s transfer policy after its own takeover in 2008, it’s about who is available.
“If a player strengthens Newcastle’s team and they stay in the Premier League, it’s a good signing,” he says.
“In January, teams are either competing for the top, or are unsure if they are safe, so it’s really difficult for clubs to agree to sell players.
“It can be a nightmare. No-one wants to sell their best players unless you’re buying them for an absolute fortune. So sometimes you have to be prepared to pay over the odds.”
Yet Trippier’s signing for £12m plus add-ons shows the new owners can strike a good deal.
Howe added: “We certainly don’t have a blank cheque. We are trying to be smart to bring in the right players at the right price.
“If you see a player coming for purely financial gain, it won’t work, but you also need very good players so it’s a delicate combination for me to figure out.”
It promises to be a tricky month to navigate, especially with the likes of co-owner Amanda Staveley getting to grips with running the club, and the funds needing to be signed off in Saudi Arabia.
But huge resources will allow the club to be creative, with relegation clauses, if needs be.
Rigg adds: “For the next couple of years, Newcastle will go through what we called the ‘building and fixing phase’ at Manchester City. You have to make some sacrifices during that time because we were a mid-table Premier League team and didn’t really have an awful lot of negotiating power.”
Who are Newcastle interested in?
Chief among centre-back options has been Lille’s Dutch Under-21 international Botman, with Sevilla’s Diego Carlos and Burnley’s James Tarkovski also linked with the club.
Trippier will improve options at right-back, while Jamal Lewis’ hamstring injury meant there was also interest in Everton left-back Lucas Digne, before he decided on a £25m move to Aston Villa.
Despite Wood’s arrival on Tyneside, there is still interest in other attackers to cover striker Callum Wilson’s injury absence. Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah might prove tricky after Gunners boss Mikel Arteta said he was staying in London, but other links have included Bournemouth’s Dominic Solanke, who has worked with Howe previously, and Bayer Leverkusen’s Patrik Schick, who has scored 17 goals in 15 Bundesliga games this season.
There are also links with attacking midfielders such as Todd Cantwell, whose future at Norwich is in doubt. Tottenham’s Tanguy Ndombele may also be on Howe’s radar.
Howe is keen to sign those who are “up for the fight” like Trippier and can see Newcastle’s long-term vision.
“You want players to come for the feeling of playing for Newcastle, the pull of the supporters and the history and a chance to build something special,” said Howe.
With relegation still a possibility, it may prove a tough sell.
What will success look like?
Many lessons will be learned this month by Newcastle’s owners, according to Rigg, and not only the hiking of prices.
The club will be used as a market generator, with agents and clubs linking players to Howe’s side in order to boost prices.
Then there are agent tricks. Some might play an intermediary role by approaching Newcastle and saying that a player wants to join the club even though they are not contracted to the player. Then they will approach the player and say Newcastle are interested in signing him.
“When you make contact with the selling club, and find out who the real agent is, it’s a real tough process to go through,” Rigg says. “There’s some really top agents out there but there’s an awful lot of chancers that don’t actually have any connection to the player.”
Rigg, who has worked at Burnley, QPR and the Football Association in similar roles, says there is also a risk in trying to sign too many players because they might not gel in time to get Newcastle out of the relegation zone.
But he believes signing Trippier and Wood shows that Newcastle are on the right track.
“They’ve got to be prepared to walk away from things that aren’t right,” he says. “But Kieran is the right type of player and if they brought in one or two more like Kieran, then they’ll be insurmountably better than they are now.
“What you’ve got to be a little bit cautious of is going for big signings that don’t really contribute, or low-key signings which are building for the future.
“It’s only hypothetical, but if they did get relegated, I would want Kieran in my team in the Championship trying to bounce back – players who are committed to being at the club.
“You need fighters now in the position Newcastle are in.”
Newcastle will hope it doesn’t come to that, and their work in the transfer market is not over yet.