‘Clearly’ - Darren Eales comments hint at possible Newcastle United stance on Conference League failure

Darren Eales, the Newcastle United CEODarren Eales, the Newcastle United CEO
Darren Eales, the Newcastle United CEO
Newcastle United agonisingly missed out on Conference League football as Manchester City lost the FA Cup final

Darren Eales previously outlined Newcastle United’s 2023-24 aim as European qualification - an achievement they failed to deliver by the narrowest of margins.

Toon supporters were forced to put their passports back in the drawer after Manchester City folded in the FA Cup final to inter-city rivals Manchester United. Despite going into the clash as 8/1 underdogs and plagued by uncertainty over Erik ten Hag’s future, the Red Devils stunned City to clinch the cup for the 13th time.

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Newcastle needed Pep Guardiola’s side - viewed by many as the best in world football - to earn what most considered a routine win. Man City beat Ten Hag’s side in last year’s final but barely landed a glove on them, putting in arguably their worst performance of the season to end the campaign on a downer.

Had they won, seventh spot in the Premier League - where Newcastle finished - would have secured Conference League qualification. As it turned out, Man United, who placed eighth, snatched the final Europa League spot via the FA Cup.

This kept the Conference League position for sixth-placed Chelsea and left the Magpies empty-handed - a brutal end to a topsy-turvy 2023-24. Competing in UEFA’s third-tier competition would have provided a realistic chance of ending the club’s 69-year wait without a trophy and boosted the financial coffers.

Admittedly, Champions League is the holy grail, with Newcastle banking £13.5million just for qualifying. By comparison, West Ham United banked £13million for winning the Conference League.

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But that does not include additional revenue from staging games - with St James’ Park generating roughly £2million per fixture. Speaking earlier this year, club CEO Eales pinned reaching Europe as Newcastle’s goal for 2023-24 - a dream that ultimately failed to materialise.

“In the long term, we want to be consistently competing in Europe,” he told reporters. “If we are going to be that top-six sustainable club competing for trophies, we need to have that year-to-year of being in Europe.

“We're hopeful with players coming back, with the fact that we're not going to have the intensity of games for that second half of the season, that we can be in a position where we qualify for Europe, because clearly that gives us revenue from the matches, from your progression.”

Club chiefs will be bitterly disappointed while also understanding that the outcome was an outlier. Seventh spot has been enough to secure Conference League football every year since its inception in 2021.

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What the result does mean, however, is that Eddie Howe goes into next season with added pressure to deliver. Next year will likely be a make-or-break year for the Toon boss, who made no secret that his target was European qualification.

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