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Eddie Howe says Newcastle are taking a trip to Arabia ‘for the benefit of the players’ | Newcastle United

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Eddie Howe has again refused to address Saudi Arabia’s dismal human rights record as he confirmed he will take his struggling Newcastle side to the Gulf kingdom after Saturday’s game at Leeds.

Saudi-based Newcastle are due to fly to Jeddah on Sunday for a week-long hot weather training camp on the Red Sea coast, where thermometers hit 30C on Friday. Although Howe revealed they would likely play a friendly match, he declined to say whether he would meet Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler. “I don’t know any of those details at this time,” he said.

The political temperature has been dramatically raised by human rights issues and the Saudi regime’s alleged involvement in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in 2018, but Howe has maintained he is solely focused on football and Newcastle’s attempt “to survive in the Premier League”.

The Newcastle manager, whose side are second after winning just one game, said: “It’s a footballing decision. We’re doing it for the benefit of the players in our fight to stay in the division and it’s is my only thought The facilities and everything around the trip will be first class and the players will be treated very well.

“There will be no distractions from me. It’s all about training and making sure the players are focused on our next game [against Everton on 8 February]. We just do it in a different environment to bring players together. We will try to do a good job and come back as a united team.

“Leaving is vitally important. Lots of Covid protocols you have around the training ground [in England] encourage isolation, rightly to protect everyone. But that doesn’t help you foster the team spirit and solidarity we’ll need in the battle to stay in the division. It’s important to encourage this unity, so going together is a great idea.

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The Saudi Public Investment Fund owns 80% in Newcastle and Amnesty International is concerned about the trip. “This could turn into another public relations opportunity for the Saudi authorities trying to clean up their appalling human rights record,” a spokesperson said.

Howe, meanwhile, admitted he’s had a frustrating week in the transfer market as he strives to strengthen his squad, with moves for Sevilla centre-half Diego Carlos and Sevilla striker Manchester United Jesse Lingard staggering.

“We are desperately trying to improve the team,” he said. “But it’s been a fruitless search this week.”

Eddie Howe says Newcastle are taking a trip to Arabia ‘for the benefit of the players’ | Newcastle United

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