Former Newcastle United captain Rob Lee believes the club could challenge the Premier League’s top teams “within a couple of years” following a lucrative takeover – as long as the new owners bring “the right people” in.
Lee joined Newcastle in the second tier in 1992, but the Magpies were quickly promoted under Kevin Keegan and immediately challenged for the title.
Newcastle finished third in their first season up, then sixth, then second twice – agonisingly missing out on the championship in 1995-96 having led Manchester United by 12 points at one stage.
Although Bobby Robson led Newcastle back into the Champions League following the turn of the century, the Tyneside club have largely struggled to compete since.
Mike Ashley’s purchase of Newcastle in 2007 led to a woeful 14-year tenure, in which a side previously regularly playing European football were relegated twice. They now sit 19th in the Premier League, winless after seven games.
The club now have new owners, however, as Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) last week bought 80 per cent of the shares, with the remaining 20 per cent split between Amanda Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners and the Reuben brothers’ RB Sports & Media.
The PIF became the richest owner in world football, quickly prompting links to a host of big names, including Antonio Conte as manager and Philippe Coutinho as a potential star signing.
Meanwhile, Staveley spoke of challenging Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain.
But Lee, who spent 10 years at St James’ Park, sees that transition taking time, telling Stats Perform: “I genuinely think those days of somebody coming up that quickly now, a bottom-half team coming up so quickly within a year, would be virtually impossible with the money that’s in the game.
“Certainly within a couple of years, there’s no reason, if they spend it wisely on the right people and players, why we can’t be challenging.”
Amanda Staveley and Mehrdad Ghodoussi introduce themselves at the #NUFC training ground.
— Newcastle United FC (@NUFC) October 11, 2021
He explained: “It’s certainly a long-term project. It’s certainly going to cost a lot of money. I think what’s important is they get the right people.
“I don’t just mean on the pitch, off the pitch as well – in the right jobs, people who care about the club, and people who are going to push the club in the right direction.
“Because when I joined in ’92, everybody was pulling in the same direction. John Hall was pushing the club off the field, Kevin Keegan was pushing the club on the field, and they were going in the same direction.
“This is probably the best news since Bobby Robson signed for Newcastle many, many years ago. Since he left and since he went, this club’s been in decline, and it’s going to take a long, long time.”
Lee said Ashley’s departure was “the best for all parties”, but links to Saudi Arabia have also provided concern, given the country’s human rights record, which Amnesty International describes as “abysmal”.
On the subject of ‘sportswashing’, Lee said: “It’s a very difficult question. I think [fans] do care about it and people do care about it, but there’s so much frustration over the last 14 years of Mike Ashley owning the club.
“I think that they’re so elated at the moment, having their club in different hands, somebody who’s going to spend money, which is what they haven’t spent for a long, long time, and push their club forward.
“Hopefully, they’ll have people in charge of the club who care about the club and want to push the club forward.
“You still have to think about these things, but the main thing, I think, people are thinking about at the moment is the fact that the club’s been taken over by people better [for the club] than Mike Ashley at the moment.”