Gary Lineker thought it was ‘hilarious’ that Newcastle were spending £20million on Burnley striker Chris Wood. He was no doubt bent double when discovering it was actually £25m.
But then there is the mantra of another former England captain, Kevin Keegan. It was an adage he used to repeat when managing the club — ‘buy better’.
Given Newcastle are without a fit frontman and finished last weekend’s 1-0 FA Cup defeat by League One Cambridge United with 5ft 4in winger Ryan Fraser at centre forward, it is fair to say Keegan would approve of Wood’s acquisition. He is certainly better than what they have right now.
Chris Wood has sealed a £25m move from Burnley to Newcastle on a two-and-a-half year deal
Lineker justified his stance by claiming the fee was ‘mad’ and said Newcastle would never be top of the league with such ‘poor recruitment’.
But Newcastle do not need to scale the summit of the Premier League this season — they have to avoid tumbling over the precipice.
Lineker was right that, in numbers alone, paying such a sum for a 30-year-old in the final 18 months of his contract and with three goals this season is, undeniably, a little mad.
It would have been even madder, however, had Newcastle not done the deal, especially when Wood’s release clause allowed for a swift completion.
For in the isolation of this season and, more urgently, this week — they play fourth-bottom Watford on Saturday — Wood could yet prove the most inspired signing of a Saudi-led regime that will bring in countless more in the years to come. It does not really matter if the fee is £2.5m or £25m, when the prize is a £150m renewal of top-flight status. As Wood said: ‘If that’s what Newcastle thought I was worth at this point in time, then that’s how it is. You never know, in six months’ time you could look back and say it’s a great deal.’
Chris Wood is keen to silence the doubters after signing a two-and-a-half-year deal
Newcastle can afford relegation in monetary terms, but not in the reputational damage to a project which, as Lineker addressed, is meant to be taking them to the top of the Premier League.
To that end, the visit of Watford — two points above with a game in hand — will go some way to defining the future of a club billed as the world’s richest.
Those in positions of seniority will also be mindful of the game’s significance. The name above the door right now is Amanda Staveley, the co-owner given a management contract to run the club by the Saudis. She does not want relegation on her watch.
For the first time earlier this week, the wisdom of Staveley’s decision to go it alone in the January window without a director of football was being questioned by fans and several close to the club.
The cause for alarm was the absence of a striker more than two weeks on from learning that Callum Wilson suffered a serious injury. The panic-button signing has restored calm.
Wood takes the No 20 shirt at Newcastle and is in line to make his debut against Watford
Eddie Howe would have worried that he was about to enter a game of such magnitude without a recognised goalscorer.
The head coach’s honeymoon period with fans has already extended longer than some marriages last. He is just as popular with players, who have been queuing up to laud the improvement of standards.
But defeat against Watford, who have lost their last seven, and we may hear the first grumblings of discontent from the terraces, even if the majority will be loath to do so.
The addition of Wood tips the odds in Newcastle’s favour, not to mention the destabilising effect his loss could have on Burnley. They are furious that their player bailed on them in such circumstance.
What does Wood make of that?
‘For me, there was no bad blood at all,’ he said. ‘I really enjoyed my four years there, playing Europa League, avoiding relegation, the crowd were always behind me. I have nothing but positive memories. This was a great opportunity and something I couldn’t turn down.
Eddie Howe will be thrilled to get a new striker and a rival in the relegation battle is weakened
Newcastle have the financial clout to buy the best players from their relegation rivals
‘It wasn’t an easy decision to leave. I wish I left further up the league, but you can’t plan these things.’
Newcastle certainly had not planned to bring in Wood this month. Indeed, much of what they had hoped to do is being revised given the reluctance of clubs to part with key players.
It is remarkable that they have arrived in mid-January with just one win and remain only two points from safety. As one source said this week: ‘Newcastle’s biggest strength right now is Claudio Ranieri’.
The Italian knows that an eighth straight loss would probably be his last at Watford.
Given Lineker’s affection for the former Leicester manager, it will be Wood who has the last laugh should his goal prove the winning one. Hilarious, he might even say.