‘Strange’ - Eddie Howe’s Unai Emery admission ahead of Aston Villa v Newcastle United

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The Magpies manager was in reflective mood ahead of Saturday’s visit to Villa Park.

The events of the early days of November 2021 had a transformative impact on Eddie Howe.

Had things been different, and then-Villarreal manager Unai Emery not turned down to offer Newcastle United, Howe would not have become a firm favourite with Magpies supporters after guiding their side into serious contention for a Champions League place during an increasingly memorable season.

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Nor would he have worked with big money signings like Sven Botman, Bruno Guimaraes and Kieran Trippier, become the first United manager in a generation to guide the club into a major cup final or overseen memorable wins over the likes of Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur during the last 12 months.

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Perhaps it was simply fate that led current Aston Villa manager Emery to perform a late u-turn after looking to be on the brink of succeeding Steve Bruce at St James Park and gave Howe an opportunity to return to the dugout six months after his emotional departure from Bournemouth.

The first meeting of the current and could-have-been managers comes on Saturday lunchtime when Howe takes his side to face Emery’s Villa - and the Magpies boss has admitted he is ‘delighted’ the man in the home dugout opted against a move to Tyneside and gave him a chance to try and deliver on the ambitious plans of the United owners.

Speaking in his pre-match press conference, Howe said: “Without a doubt it was (life changing). I don’t really think back to that moment, maybe I should. But I very rarely tend to go back. I always believe your life takes the journey it is meant to go on. I was due to come here, that is what happened. But I am here because Unai turned the job down, so I’m delighted that he did.

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“Fate has a strange way of working and now we come together. I have nothing but respect for the job he has done and the career he has had. But I’m very thankful he made that decision. You can see what I’m like week to week, I’m consistent and similar with my reactions. I was like, “OK, it’s not going to happen, I’ll move on”. Then, it flipped around. In that moment you take a deep breath and you’re into a relegation battle with no time to think, only survival was on our minds. It really is a switch where you get back to work and look forward to the challenge.”

Taking the next step is always going to be the biggest challenge for Howe.

The early months of his reign were played out against a backdrop of a relegation battle - but now thoughts have turned towards securing a place in the Champions League, rather than trying to avoid a slide into the Championship.

There were ambitious and some would say laughable links with some of world football’s biggest names ahead of Howe’s first transfer window - but claiming a place in European football’s elite means what felt like fantasy football signings could move a step closer.

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Yet there was still some surprise over recent speculation regarding a mega money move for West Ham United midfielder Declan Rice earlier this week. Without directly referencing the England international, Howe admitted United would be in the market for ‘elite players’ this summer but conceded their chances of landing them could depend on the outcome of his side’s push for a Champions League place.

When asked if the club could spend so much on a big-name player, he replied: “That is a difficult question to answer. We are trying to build the best squad we can. I think a lot will probably depend on what competitions we are playing in next year as to what we can and can’t do.”

“I think we will always try to gauge it on every situation. Our strategy last summer was to try and find quality players for the positions that we needed, not to bring in a host of players who don’t necessarily improve our starting eleven or squad. I don’t think our strategy will change. We want elite players because we have an elite squad. If we do add anyone in they have to be better than the players we have.”

On and off the pitch, there is a determination deep inside Eddie Howe to ensure Newcastle United no longer leaving anything down to fate.

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