Newcastle United’s spending is “unsustainable”, warned director of football

Lewis Hall, Newcastle’s FFP, and why a loan with obligation to buy makes sense for all parties

Newcastle United’s spending is “unsustainable”, warned director of football Dan Ashworth last October.

He bought Anthony Gordon for £40million three months later.

“We aren’t going to have a bottomless pit of money,” said head coach Eddie Howe in May. “We are going to be operating under tight constraints.

One month later, Sandro Tonali arrived for £55m.

After the Italian’s arrival, one senior figure told The Athletic: “I’ve said it 1,000 times – Financial Fair Play (FFP) is a restriction for us. We can’t go big again.”

Into St James’ Park walked Tino Livramento and Harvey Barnes for a combined £72m.

Newcastle’s owners are amongst the richest in world football — but these comments give the illusion of the club breaking into the Premier League’s comfortable living room and finding money down the back of an FFP-shaped sofa.

Just as the club’s search for a left-back seemed to be pulling up only crumbs, however, Howe’s teaser that they would have to “be creative” in the market proved prescient.

Lewis Hall is expected to arrive from Chelsea on loan with an obligation to buy for £28m plus £7m of add-ons — with both sides viewing it as a permanent transfer.

So what actually is Newcastle’s current FFP position — and why did this deal make sense for all parties?

What is Newcastle’s FFP situation?

Newcastle reach agreement on transfer of defender Lewis Hall from Chelsea |  PlanetSport

First, a quick refresher on how FFP actually works. The Premier League permits pre-tax losses of £105m over three years.

Under threat of relegation, Newcastle spent far more than intended in the first window under their new ownership. While those decisions were entirely justifiable — after all, the club avoided the drop — that spending still affects deals made today.

Now, teams have spent far more than Newcastle during that period. Chelsea, for example, have spent £900m since their new ownership group took control last year, including £300m on midfielders in 2023 alone.

The west London club believe they are within the guidelines due to amortisation — which means spreading the FFP hit of a transfer across the length of a contract. This was initially done by handing out eight-year contracts — but new regulations introduced by UEFA ahead of this summer’s window mean they can only be distributed across a maximum of five years.

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Chelsea are also much larger commercially than Newcastle currently, and with FFP a measure of profitability rather than net spend, are permitted to spend larger amounts. Newcastle are aggressively trying to grow their revenue — with examples including the controversial decision to allow Saudi Arabia to play at St James’ Park this September.

With Newcastle having spent around £380m since the Saudi takeover and yet to come close to fulfilling their commercial potential, it is clear why the £105m limit is squarely in focus.

 

That said, senior club officials have looked at Manchester City’s example — currently charged with breaking FFP rules on over 100 occasions over a nine-year period — and knowing the league’s distrust of their ownership, Newcastle are determined to build sustainably and operate within the rulebook.

However, a significant detail of FFP is that player sales are booked in their entirety during the same financial year that they are received (minus any remaining amortised cost) — meaning they play an outsized role in balancing the books.

Newcastle may not have sold significantly since their new owners came in, but have received around £48m for Chris Wood and Allan Saint-Maximin this summer. The realities of the calculations are more complicated than this, but with Newcastle’s £380m spend amortised over five years, the two figures become much more comparable.

For example, it was the sale of Wood and Saint-Maximin which unlocked the funds needed to finalise the signings of Barnes and Livramento.

It is also worth stressing that wages often play a far more significant role than transfer fees. For example: if Club A signs a player for £50m and gives him a five-year contract worth £100,000 a week, and Club B signs a player on a free transfer and agrees to pay him around £400,000 a week, it is Club B’s player who is more expensive on a weekly basis.

Why did Newcastle want Hall?

As explored by The Athletic last week, Newcastle studied a handful of left-backs this summer, including Arsenal’s Kieran Tierney, Real Betis’ Juan Miranda, and Chelsea pair Marc Cucurella and Hall.

Though there are reasons why each may fit Newcastle’s style of play, each had drawbacks — Tierney’s aerial ability, Cucurella and Miranda’s one-vs-one defending. Aside from his inexperience, it is striking that Hall’s main flaw was what had been viewed as a lack of availability rather than any footballing factor.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 28: Lewis Hall of Chelsea during the Premier League match between Chelsea FC and Newcastle United at Stamford Bridge on May 28, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Richard Callis/MB Media/Getty Images)

He won Chelsea’s Academy Player of the Season last year, while also making an impressive step up to the senior side — acquitting himself impressively against Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United, and Newcastle themselves.

His pizza chart shows a well-rounded game — although it is a small sample size at just 402 minutes.

The following example against Nottingham Forest shows what he likes to do — preferring to progress the ball through carrying rather than passing.

Here Hall picks up the ball under pressure from Serge Aurier…

…before nutmegging the defender and laying it on a plate for Joao Felix.

It is worth stressing that Hall is not just a left-back. He has shown his versatility in Chelsea’s academy sides, lining up in positions as varied as centre-back and left wing.

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