Former Newcastle hero Rob Lee admits even the most optimistic Newcastle fan couldn’t have imagined the turnaround in the club’s fortunes in the last year under Eddie Howe.
Howe celebrated one year in charge of Newcastle earlier this month and in that time he has masterminded a remarkable turnaround that sees the club sitting third in the table after being in the relegation zone when Howe took over last season.
Howe has worked wonders at Newcastle and the feelgood factor is back on Tyneside after a difficult period under the ownership of Mike Ashley, when survival was the only aim.
It would be fair to say the year under the tenure of Howe and the club’s new owners PIF has been the most transformational 12 months in the club’s history.
Newcastle are back competing with the Premier League’s big boys and are doing it with style, calling back to Kevin Keegan’s swash-buckling Entertainers side of the 1990s.
Lee – who was an integral part of the Entertainers side that almost won the Premier League in 1996, and captained the team when they finished second again and reached the FA Cup final the following year under Dalglish – is full of praise for the job done by Howe so far and can see similarities between the current Newcastle side and the team he played for under Keegan.
“It has been amazing really,” Lee tells Compare.bet. “I think no one – not even the most staunch Newcastle fan – could have predicted the transformation of the club in a year.
“I think when he [Howe] came in quite a few people were sceptical, I think because of what happened at Burnley.
“Newcastle are a huge club with huge expectations, but he has been absolutely brilliant and he has got the players playing for him and he has brought players in that have made us a better team.
“It reminds me of when I joined back in the 90s, everyone is pulling in the same direction and the club are moving forward at a rate of knots.”
Lee, who made nearly 400 appearances for Newcastle between 1992 and 2002 and was inducted into the Newcastle United Hall of Fame in 2019, is thrilled to see the team back on the rise and happy for the fans to have a side they can be proud of again.
“I have been to a few games and the ex-players have been welcomed back in which is great,” adds Lee.
“It’s the whole area, when the team is playing well, the team is winning, people are just happy and you can tell that when you’re up in Newcastle.
“It [football] is their life if you like and for so long, for 14 odd years, they have not had the best owner and have had to put up with a lot, but now they have got owners who are putting their money where their mouth is, got players who want to play for the football club and they have got a manager who is pushing the club forward. Not even the best pundit in the world could have seen the transformation in one year.”
Despite winning lots of fans with their style of football, the Newcastle sides Lee played in never managed to win any major silverware and the former England international wants the current crop to end the club’s long wait for a trophy.
“I thought when Eddie first took over the target would be to stave off relegation, get a few players in and try and stay in the top half of the league, but expectations are going to rise,” admitted Lee.
“The Geordie fans will be thinking ‘Can we win the league here’, but I have said many times I would like us to go for a cup – we are still in the Carabao Cup and the FA Cup.
“We are not going to win the league,” Lee acknowledged. “That’s not going to happen.”
“We have done brilliantly well, but I would just like us to go for a cup because over the years we have always saved ourselves to stay in the league, but I think we are past that now so let’s try and win a cup, win some silverware because it’s been a long time since we have.”
Lee, who famously scored a hat-trick in Newcastle’s 5-0 win over Royal Antwerp in 1994 – their first game in Europe for 17 years – and was also part of the Magpies side who qualified for the Champions League in 1997, can see no reason why the Toon Army will not maintain their surprise push for a top four finish and place back in Europe’s elite competition once the Premier League season resumes at the end of December after the World Cup break.
“There are a lot of teams in transition or poor form,” notes Lee. “Manchester United are inconsistent; they win one, then lose one. Chelsea, I think Graham Potter is a fantastic manager, but I think he is finding it a little tough there at the minute too.
“Arsenal are playing brilliantly well but you don’t know how long that is going to last.
“Manchester City are the team I feel are still going to win the league, but apart from that you look around and feel ‘why can’t Newcastle stay around the top four?’
“Spurs are hit and miss, Liverpool are very inconsistent and suffering a backlash from losing Mane and some of their players are not playing so well.
“Newcastle are the team who are consistent, tough to beat, scoring goals and winning games, so it will be very interesting after the World Cup to see if they can maintain it but there is no reason they can’t.
“I feel Newcastle are the in-form team.”
Famous son of Newcastle, Paul Gascoigne, once sang about the ‘Fog on the Tyne’, but under Howe this current Newcastle side have lifted the haze that once hung over Tyneside, and for so long shrouded their loyal supporters.