Photo by Alex Gottschalk/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

In an alternative universe, Ciro Immobile is racing over to the St James’ Park touchline and leaping into the arms of Luciano Spalletti after firing Newcastle United into the Champions League. 

Living in dreamland, perhaps? But who knows where Newcastle would be if the Saudi Arabian takeover had been ratified in early 2020 rather than late 2021?

We’d hazard a guess if Newcastle had Immobile up front and Spalletti on the sidelines, the richest club in world football wouldn’t be glancing nervously over its shoulders at Norwich City in the Premier League relegation zone. 

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“During the period in which there was talk of the possible purchase of Newcastle by the sheikh’s fund, they called my agent,” Italy international Immobile explained in August 2020

According to Gazzetta dello Sport, Newcastle offered Lazio £49 million for Immobile while pledging to make the striker their best-paid player on £140,000 a week. 

“Then the Premier League did not approve that proposal,” Immobile adds, before indicating Steve Bruce would have been put out of his misery long ago. 

“I know they were also looking for an Italian coach, (Max) Allegri or Spalletti.” 

Where would Newcastle be if they’d hired Luciano Spalletti?

Flash forward to November 2021 and, while Newcastle have gone 11 league games without a win, Immobile is basking in the glory of becoming Lazio’s record goalscorer.

His 116th goal – in just 233 games – saw Immobile overtake the legendary Silvio Piola in the Aquile’s history books. 

Photo by Silvia Lore/Getty Images

As for Spalletti, it’s fair to say the 62-year-old tactician is enjoying an impressive return to the dugout in his first job since making way for Antonio Conte at Inter Milan in May 2019. 

Napoli haven’t tasted Scudetto glory since the days of Diego Maradona.

With ten wins and two draws from their first 12 Serie A games under Spalletti, however, and with a seven-point gap separating them from reigning champions Inter Milan in third, a drought that has lasted more than two decades may be transformed into a tidal wave of joy.

“(Spalletti) is the greatest of all,” experienced director Walter Sabatini says. “The madness helps him.

“He has the anthem of the Napoli fans in his head and sings it. He’s trying to build a powerful feeling that allows him to overcome the difficult moments. He will win.”

As for Newcastle, let’s hope Eddie can steady a club whose lowly league position stands in stark contrast to their sky-high ambition.

Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

In other news, Report: Nottingham Forest eye bargain £2m move for Newcastle star, Eddie Howe open to selling player