There is no stopping Newcastle United from loaning players from the Saudi Pro League after a Premier League vote did not receive the support required to be enforced. So, who should they sign in January?

Newcastle United owners, the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, are free to loan players from sister Saudi Pro League clubs during the upcoming winter transfer window to help out Eddie Howe, with the Magpies down to the bare bones amidst a mounting injury crisis.

Last Tuesday, 13 of the 20 top-flight sides voted against a ban on affiliated clubs doing business with one another in the transfer window. Newcastle are not the only team to have an affiliated outfit, of course, with Manchester City, Nottingham Forest, and Chelsea all having satellite clubs in Europe.

However, the conversation has been focused around the Toon, with the move to vote on the matter pushed by big guns anxious about the potential for Newcastle United to take advantage of their Saudi ownership and bring some of the biggest names from the SPL back to Europe.

At present, four of the top flight sides in the Middle Eastern nation have PIF ownership, perhaps stockpiling with world-class players for potential deals between themselves and Tyneside. If you think so, then please consider thinking again!

In theory, Newcastle United can now sign Cristiano Ronaldo without having to pay him a wage or his club a loan fee. However, it is worth noting that the Saudi Pro League project holds greater priority in the Public Investment Fund’s (PIF) portfolio than the Newcastle venture. In fact, that was a major reason why they were helping out Newcastle’s rival Chelsea by buying all of their big-name deadwood last summer.

The PIF are trying to turn their domestic league into a very serious proposition and are spending very serious amounts of money to make this happen quickly. So, sending a well-marketed asset like Ruben Neves back to the Premier League on loan is not a good look for the Saudi Pro League and undermines the product.

Ideally, the Toon, who have been very shrewd in the transfer market over the last two years and do not base their transfer strategy around loan deals, themselves would look to avoid all controversy and simply pass on the option of bringing a Saudi star to Tyneside this winter.

However, the fact that Howe was forced to start a 17-year-old Lewis Miley in midfield and name three goalkeepers and a host of Under-21s on the bench in the 4-1 victory over Chelsea on Saturday, following the additions of Sean Longstaff and Joe Willock to an extensive 12-man first-team injury list, paints a vivid picture of Newcastle’s season unravelling.

While they have done a fine job managing to see out a long stretch of games without the chunk of their stars so far, with fringe forgotten players stepping up to the plate, the struggle to cope with the mounting injuries, coupled with the challenges posed by extra European games, is evident, with key players dropping like cards on the pitch.

As their demanding fixture schedule shows no signs of easing, the option to potentially dip into the Saudi Arabian market and fill a gap or two in their squad with a temporary solution becomes all the more appealing, as it would also help them circumvent FFP.

Of course, it is very silly for fans and pundits alike to assume that all Eddie Howe has to do is pick up the remote on his deck and press the big green Saudi button to call in whatever he wants from the Middle East.

Football transfers are much more complex; there is fees, agents, logistics, medicals, and players personal preferences involved (does Ronaldo or Mane even want to uproot and move to Newcastle on a short-term deal?).With all that in mind, The Hard Tackle lists three Saudi Pro League players Newcastle United should viably target to improve their squad in the new year.

Ruben Neves

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Newcastle United entered the new season with arguably the best midfield department in the Premier League following the high-profile capture of Italian international Sandro Tonali from last season’s Champions League semi-finalists AC Milan.

Tonali’s addition to an already competent midfield department comprised of Sean Longstaff, Bruno Guimaraes, Joelinton, and Joe Willock, coupled with the emergence of young guns Elliot Anderson and Miley, made the Magpies’ midfield depth a force to be reckoned with.

It had all started so well for Tonali on Tyneside. Scoring on his Premier League debut, it looked as if the £55 million star was going to hit the ground running for his new side. And while there have been moments of rustiness at times, on the most part, the 23-year-old needed no time at all to establish himself in the Newcastle starting line-up.

That was until a betting probe from Italian prosecutors saw his entire world collapse in on itself, with the Italian now banned for ten months for illegal betting on games. His absence has left a huge void in the engine room, especially considering Joe Willock and Elliot Anderson’s recurring injury problems. And while Sean Longstaff has found a new level in his progression, he’s also currently sidelined with a knock.

It is thought the Magpies, who are tracking out-of-favour Manchester City midfielder Kalvin Phillips, cannot afford a permanent replacement for Tonali in January due to FFP restrictions.

Ruben Neves’s name has been widely mentioned as a potential replacement for the Italian, with the Portuguese international currently playing for Al-Hilal. Neves would give Howe another option in central midfield and is certainly good enough to play at Premier League level, having shone for Wolves over a number of seasons.

The classy midfielder’s ability to control a game from the No. 6 position with his passing range and an eye for a pass while maintaining defensive discipline is a skill set the Toon can greatly benefit from, as it would allow Bruno Guimaraes to push forward and display his playmaking, technical brilliance, vision, and passing ability to unlock teams in advanced areas.

Another one of Neves’s outstanding attributes is his ability to shoot accurately from long distances, which has helped him score a number of mercurial clutch goals. The Portugal international also naturally exudes leadership qualities and boasts bags of experience at the top level, having assumed the captaincy role at FC Porto early in his career and during his tenure at Molineux with Wolves.

While Neves is picking up a huge wage in the Middle East, there have been reports that he wants to get back to playing at the highest level. And with Eddie Howe understood to be a firm admirer of the playmaker, he could well be offered an opportunity to make a Premier League return. An initial loan deal with a permanent option will be an ideal operation from the Toon perspective due to FFP restrictions.

Newcastle are not the only club believed to be in for the Portuguese international, with Arsenal and Tottenham also interested. But the Magpies’ are said to be the favourites’ in the race to land his signature in 2024.

Aymeric Laporte

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As well as improving further up their spine in the holding midfield position, Newcastle also need to toughen up at the back, with their central defensive options stretched. Skipper Jamaal Lascelles’s re-introduction has largely been down to the Magpies’ injury problems in defence, made worse by first-choice left-back Dan Burn’s recent back injury, which will sideline him for a number of months.

While Lascelles has shown unprecedented levels of improvement in his ball-playing prowess, boasts a decent recovery pace, and is super-strong aerially, he is still a significant downgrade on Sven Botman, whose prolonged absence has hampered the Magpies’ build-up play and ability to maintain a high line in big Champions League games.

So, it would be no surprise if Howe looked to remedy that in January, even though Botman could be back at some point next month. Aymeric Laporte was coveted by some of Europe’s biggest clubs after he fell out of favour under Pep Guardiola. Ultimately, it was Al-Nassr who swooped in and snapped up the classy Spanish international for just £25 million.

Laporte would be a quality signing for the Magpies and could be viewed as a ready-made defender to come in and strengthen the team during the January window. The 29-year-old is at the peak of his powers, and he will be able to settle in quickly thanks to his previously successful Premier League stint with Manchester City.

In possession, Laporte is highly qualified. Otherwise, he would not have played at the Etihad since Manchester City usually dominate possession and the build-up has to start from the centre-backs. He is very composed on the ball and can even drive with the ball at his feet.

While not exactly like Manchester City, Newcastle, at their technical best, look to dominate games through possession and having a high defensive line to be able to counter-press after. With that in mind, it is safe to say that Laporte is a near-perfect addition to the Magpies’ and to how they play.

Gabri Veiga

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We wanted to pick an attacker as our third and final pick, particularly following injuries to Harvey Barnes and Jacob Murphy. Many Newcastle supporters first thought would have been to bring the dribble-king, Allan Saint-Maximin, back to Tyneside from Al-Ahli.

However, with just six goal contributions from 14 Saudi Pro League outings and recurring hamstring problems, Saint-Maximin’s time in Saudi Arabia has been far from ideal since his move from Newcastle. Although he is still producing moments of magic every now and then, the Magpies should steer clear of him in the upcoming window.

Instead, we have gone for Saint-Maximin’s teammate, Gabri Veiga, a familiar name to many Newcastle United supporters and someone who has been linked with a move to St. James’ Park ever since early 2023, even after his Saudi Pro League move.

You can see why, as Veiga ticks so many boxes that perfectly fit the Newcastle United recruitment strategy. Playing for unfashionable Celta Vigo last season, the 21-year-old attacking midfielder produced a very impressive nine goals and four assists in only 28 La Liga outings.

He has a creative, attack-minded style of play that would make him a surefire hit on Tyneside if properly replicated. Veiga is excellent at getting the ball forward from deep areas with his sharp dribbling and ball-carrying. He is a midfielder who is confident and who is not afraid to take shots from long range.

He excels at making progressive passes and creating goalscoring chances for his teammates. But he is also skilled at driving forward and shielding the ball from opponents in transitional moments, as well as exploiting deep blocks with his pinpoint passing.

The versatile playmaker can make a massive difference for the Magpies in the final third and is gifted with qualities that a manager demands from a modern-day attacking midfielder. Still only 21 years old, Newcastle can even afford to purchase him straightaway, given the player’s evident upside, and maybe with favourable payment terms to stay in line with FFP.

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