It was only on Friday morning that Eddie Howe joked about his gravelly voice being the symptom of shouting at his Newcastle players for the past fortnight. Just hours later, however, he would test positive for Covid-19.
In a cruel twist of fate entirely in keeping with a football club whose hogging of headlines is seldom anything to do with football, Howe will now miss his first match in charge at home to Brentford on Saturday afternoon.
The hot take on the news was at least consistent – ‘only at Newcastle United’. Unbelievable? Sadly, on Tyneside, all too believable.
New Newcastle manager Eddie Howe will miss his first game on Saturday due to coronavirus
Howe took training at St James’ Park this week before Saturday’s home game with Brentford
Howe, though, remains focused. He will FaceTime each player before the game and will be in contact with his backroom staff throughout. In fact, he has had a plan in place for this eventuality since the outbreak of the pandemic in March of last year.
That does not come as a surprise given the noises that have emerged about Howe’s impact since his arrival last week.
He had been on the training pitch with his new players for a matter of minutes when he barked at them: ‘If you think you are maxed out, you are not.’
That has been the theme of the past two weeks, redefining limits. The international ‘break’ has been anything but, save for a staff-bonding trip to a Newcastle restaurant. Even then Howe was alarmed when headlines revealed he had taken the group to a ‘pub’, especially given his insistence that alcohol was a no-go.
Newcastle boss Howe (right) took his staff to The Three Mile Inn in Gosforth on Thursday
The Three Mile Inn is famed for its happy-hour buzzer and was a popular haunt of The Entertainers for an afternoon session in the mid-Nineties.
Howe’s idea of an afternoon session is somewhat different. As for happy hours, they are spent raising the bar, not propping it up.
The one word to emanate from the training ground has been ‘intensity’. His first day, and every one thereafter, has been spent drilling home the message – ‘we train as we play’. Sources describe some of it as ‘like pre-season’, in that players are returning home ready for their bed.
Not that the work has been boring or repetitive. Every exercise is short and sharp.
Howe put together a 500-page dossier of his training sessions during his 15-month break following Bournemouth, so repetition is unlikely.
Howe alongside Mehrdad Ghodoussi (left) and Amanda Staveley (right) at his official unveiling
Howe’s first games
Saturday Brentford (H)
November 27 Arsenal (A)
November 30 Norwich City (H)
December 4 Burnley (H)
December 12 Leicester City (A)
December 16 Liverpool (A)
He has also sought to tighten standards away from the grass.
There are new expectations in terms of punctuality, eating together, dress code and more.
One initiative that has been particularly well received was the move to train at St James’ Park last Saturday. He encouraged his players to visualise. If you are going to work on team shape, you might as well do it within the exact parameters in which you are hoping to fit.
Howe is mindful of respecting former boss Steve Bruce and is not about to make a public declaration of the players he inherited lacking fitness, even though striker Callum Wilson hinted at as much in a revealing interview with a local newspaper this week.
Rather, the 43-year-old has spoken of changes to training that will extract an extra ‘two or three per cent’.
‘We are not jogging’ he screamed on that first day.
There has been no scope for rest, either. His working day starts at 7am and finishes 12 hours later. As he laughed on Friday, ‘I haven’t seen Newcastle in daylight yet’. He is unlikely to do so for the next 10 days now.
Howe took the time to pose for photos with excited Newcastle fans outside St James’ Park
Howe joked that he hadn’t yet seen Newcastle in daylight after putting in 12-hour days
Not that the work will stop given the gravity of the situation his team is in, five points from safety and 19th in the Premier League.
At a charity talk-in in the shadow of St James’ this week, supporters quizzed journalists on all things Newcastle United.
One question was put, ‘What is the aim of the new owners, can this club win the Champions League?’. A reporter quite drolly replied, ‘They need to win a game first’.
And that is Howe’s only concern, Covid or otherwise.
Howe’s task will be to get Newcastle out the bottom three with five points to make up
His first few training sessions have been intense but not repetitive with experience to draw on