Newcastle boss Eddie Howe determined to close the gap to Manchester United

Eddie Howe is confident Newcastle can buck the trend as they attempt to challenge Manchester United on and off the pitch.

The sides meet at St James’ Park in the Premier League on Sunday, little more than a month after the men from Old Trafford got the better of the Magpies in the Carabao Cup final at Wembley, the Tyneside outfit’s first major final in 24 years.

Head coach Howe and his players have gone much of the way towards closing the gap between the clubs in football terms with the help of sizeable investment from their Saudi-backed owners, but with United’s forecast turnover for 2022-23 approaching £600million, around three times the figure for Newcastle, a major financial challenge remains.

Manchester United celebrate victory over Newcastle in the Carabao Cup Final at Wembley
Manchester United celebrated victory over Newcastle in the Carabao Cup final at Wembley (David Davies/PA)

Asked about that disparity, the former Bournemouth manager said: “I think you can buck the trend, of course you can, it’s possible. It’s not easy to do.

“I go back to my early coaching experiences and we were always trying to buck the trend. We were going against teams with far superior budgets to us for years and years.

“When you say how: team spirit, togetherness, implementing a plan, hopefully everyone’s on the same page and working harder than everyone else. That’s the simple blueprint that I’ve always tried to use.

“When you get to the elite level, as we are, it gets harder and harder. But believe in the squad we have and we’ll give everything to try to do that.”

Asked how quickly the Magpies could start to compete with the Red Devils off the pitch, Howe added: “You’re probably asking the wrong man.

“But there are ambitions for the club to grow the income. It’s vital that we do with Financial Fair Play because we’re going to be restricted depending on our income, so I know that’s the challenge that everyone at the club is trying to find answers to.”

Newcastle sit fifth in the table ahead of Sunday’s game, with United two places and three points better off, although having once again found themselves thrust into the headlines as a result of the 80 per cent stake Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund holds in the club.

The Premier League strengthened its owners’ and directors’ test to prevent anyone found to have committed human rights abuses taking charge of a club amid repeated calls from Amnesty International to re-examine Amanda Staveley’s takeover at St James’ Park.

Asked if he had spoken to the owners about the development, Howe said: “I haven’t seen anyone from the board in that period, but we will have conversations in due course. We will discuss lots of things to do with the football club and that may well come up.”

Amnesty has reserved judgement on the changes to the test, but with Sheikh Jassim, chairman of Qatar Islamic Bank and the son of a former Qatari prime minister, among those bidding to buy Manchester United – he insists his interest is private and not state-backed – this weekend’s fixture has brought club ownership into sharp focus once again.

Peter Frankental, Amnesty International UK’s economic affairs director, said: “We’re one financial deal away from this game being a sportswashing derby.

“With Newcastle, we’ve seen a major English club being blatantly used by Saudi Arabia to launder its appalling human rights record, while if Sheikh Jassim’s bid for Manchester United succeeds, we may be about to see something similar with Qatar and Old Trafford.

Qatar's Sheikh Jassim is among the bidders for Manchester United
Qatar’s Sheikh Jassim is among the bidders for Manchester United (Martin Rickett/PA)

“Saudi Arabia’s purchase of Newcastle has been about trying to deflect attention from its bloody record on mass executions, jailing dissidents and covering up the Jamal Khashoggi murder.

“Sheikh Jassim’s efforts to buy Manchester United could see the Qatari state kicking on from the World Cup as it seeks to use sport to project soft power, while thousands of migrant workers are still struggling to gain compensation for abuses they’ve suffered and appalling anti-LGBTQ+ laws remain on the books and women continue to be discriminated against.

“It remains to be seen what real difference this week’s limited changes to the Premier League’s ownership rules will make when it comes to those seeking to use top-flight football for sportswashing.

“Establishing the principle that human rights abusers should not own Premier League clubs is a significant step forward, but we’re still calling for a fully-fledged system for vetting the human rights records of prospective owners because otherwise we’re likely to be seeing sportwashing derbies on a regular basis.”

Newcastle keeper Nick Pope is back in contention after a thigh injury
Newcastle keeper Nick Pope is back in contention after a thigh injury (Nigel French/PA)

Meanwhile, Howe hopes to have keeper Nick Pope back in contention after he withdrew from the England squad with a thigh problem, while midfielder Anthony Gordon has returned to training following an ankle injury.

Joelinton, Sven Botman and Allan Saint-Maximin are available after suspension, food poisoning and injury respectively, but Miguel Almiron faces a further four weeks on the sidelines with a thigh problem.