Eddie Howe outlines Saudi Pro League stance as he discusses Newcastle United January transfer plans

NEWCASTLE: Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe has questioned the media circus around this week’s Premier League vote and the focus on the Saudi Pro League when discussing the Magpies’ January transfer plans.

Despite reports to the contrary, and having admitted his liking for Al-Hilal’s Ruben Neves, Howe has revealed he has no intention of raiding any one of the four SPL clubs also owned by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia.

That revelation comes after a controversial Premier League vote on whether to close the rule loophole which allows players to be loaned between clubs with the same owners.

On Tuesday, the vote failed, with eight of the top flight’s 20 clubs voting against the changes. A majority of 14 was needed in order for the rules to be altered. With laws remaining unaltered, the subsequent days have been filled with reports of Howe’s interest in Neves, and Newcastle’s intent to exploit the Saudi market.

That is news to Howe, however. Asked whether he would look to the SPL’s PIF four for January loan deals, he said: “It’s not even in our thoughts at this moment in time. As I said, at the start of the season, January was not a window that we were looking to invest in. It would only be a reaction to the injuries that we have and whether we need to recruit because the majority of our players would be back in January, at this moment in time we don’t know.”

On the vote itself, Howe was quick to turn attention away from Newcastle United, although they do, of course, now have more options that they would have if the loophole had been closed.

“You say Newcastle’s favor, it was a Premier League vote; we’re not the only club involved in that vote,” Howe said.

“I think the majority of clubs in the Premier League own other clubs around the world, so it’s not solely on us, I don’t think.

“Newcastle, as a club, had a view. We voted our way in the way we’re allowed to and the vote came out on the side that it did. Just from my dealings with it, we’re very relaxed on it. It’s not the be-all and end-all for us.

“Nothing irritates me. I found it a bit strange that the focus has been solely on us. Every club has a right to vote how they want to vote and it hasn’t gone through so it’s not just about us. I think it’s the same for everybody. I understand the focus being solely on us, but it’s not solely on us. This is a vote for all Premier League clubs. We’ll be potentially allowed to recruit from a league, just like every Premier League club can as well.

“We’ve got a squad we really like. If we can get players fit before January, the need to recruit will become much less intense for us.”

Injuries are the major talking point at Newcastle, although that situation has, if potentially temporarily, eased.

Alexander Isak is expected to be in contention against Chelsea this weekend, along with Bruno Guimaraes, while a late call will be made on fellow midfielder Sean Longstaff. Miguel Almiron, Kieran Trippier and Fabian Schar have been passed fit. Lewis Hall is ineligible against the Blues, as he is on loan from Stamford Bridge this season.

Injuries are likely to shape any moves in the winter window, according to Howe, who is without the likes of long-term absentees Callum Wilson, Harvey Barnes, Dan Burn and Sven Botman.

Howe said: “Certainly we’re going to have to be reactive, I think, because we’ve got injuries in different areas of the squad; there’s not necessarily one area, there’s a few areas. I think that will be a decision made toward the window opening, rather than now. To sort of form any plans now would be a mistake. Of course, we’re doing the work now to prepare for that.”

“It’s hard to make any kind of decision as I sit here now because the squad could look very different by Jan. 1. The squad could look a lot stronger. I say ‘could’ because we don’t know what’s going to happen in the next few weeks. In general, I’m against making short-term decisions unless we absolutely have to. Last January, we invested in Anthony Gordon, who we really believed could be a top talent here for many, many years. He was the right personality at that time to improve the squad. I think they’re the types of signings that we want to be making. Sat here now, though, I’ve no idea whether we’ll be in a position to do that.”

One player Howe did not expect to be without long-term was summer signing Sandro Tonali.

The former AC Milan man is serving a 10-month ban for illegal betting activities, but has been allowed to train with his teammates during that period. Howe admits he is frustrated on that front, however, with the Italian midfielder looking sharper than ever behind the scenes, at a time when the Magpies could really do with him on the pitch.

Howe said: “Sandro has been training very well, which makes it even more frustrating for us that we can’t use him, especially in this moment when we really need him. He’s a player training, he’s fit and he’s looked really good.

“Despite the obvious frustration for me, I’m very pleased that he’s training at that level, and that’s a hallmark of his character because it’s very difficult when you’ve got such a long period out to keep your focus day-to-day and do your job as well as you can, and he’s certainly done that.

“So far, he’s coping very well with his situation in the fact that he’s doing extra work. He’s trying to improve himself despite the fact he can’t play for such a long time. You wouldn’t know from our training sessions that he’s unavailable to play, and it’s probably been the best we have seen him in training. That’s natural because he’s getting used to his surroundings and he’s comfortable now. I’d love to see him when he comes back into the team because I think he will be a huge player for us.”