Newcastle United will be viewed, around the football world, in a controversially dazzling new light when they host Tottenham on Sunday in the English Premier League.
A capacity of 52,000 at St James’ Park, in the centre of the city, will see the Magpies kick off exactly where they sat before the international break: next to the bottom of the table without a win in any of their seven games. But since their 2-1 defeat at Wolves on October 2 Newcastle have become the wealthiest club in the world: far richer than Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea or Abu Dhabi’s Manchester City or even Qatar-owned Paris Saint-Germain. This £300m takeover by a Saudi-led consortium means Newcastle are now controlled by the oil-rich state’s Public Investment Fund, estimated wealth around $300bn. The PIF holds an 80pc controlling stake with the other 20pc divided between PCP Partners, the company run by businesswoman Amanda Staveley who negotiated the deal, and brothers James and Simon Reuben from the UK’s second-richest family.
ECSTATIC SUPPORTERS Fans joyously expect to see their club out-spend the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea to rival them in pursuit of the Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup and, of course, UEFA Champions League. Newcastle fans are delighted not only to have new owners but finally to be rid of the derided Mike Ashley. The boss of the Sports Direct retail chain bought the club in 2004 with promises of glory which soon faded. His reign has brought only relegation. Twice. Beyond Newcastle, the reaction has been very different.
CRITICS The purchase has been criticised as ‘sportswashing’ by a state under perpetual attack from human rights organisations. Critics have included Amnesty International as well as the fiancee of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi who was murdered in the Saudi Embassy in Istanbul in 2018. Amnesty has urged the Premier League to overhaul its ‘fit and proper persons’ regulations to include consideration of human rights. Too late. The purchase had been four years in the making. Completion was approved only after the Premier League said it had settled various legal disputes. “Legally binding assurances” had been given that no influence would be wielded by the Saudi Arabian government under controversial Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. How this can be guaranteed remains a mystery. Significantly, the opposition had been dropped by the powerful Qatar-owned beIN Media Group whose broadcasting operations and contracts in the Middle East and North Africa had been compromised by a Saudi-based pirate in the political duel between the two neighbours.
LONG TERM GOALS A Newcastle statement said that Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the governor of the PIF, would become the club’s non-executive chairman with Staveley as a director. The club’s new owners consider the days of battling relegation at an end. Staveley insisted this was a “long-term investment” to ensure the Magpies are “regularly competing for major trophies and generating pride across the globe.” Manager Steve Bruce knows he is on the way out. Speculation about a big-name successor has surged around Italian Antonio Conte and Rangers’ Steven Gerrard. As for superstar signings, fans expect to see their club outbidding Real Madrid for Kylian Mbappe next summer. This may not be so simple.
Newcastle’s history has shown that foreign players look at a map, see a small country and think they are not far from London or Manchester. Then they sign and quickly learn this is not the case. Many stars who came to the northeast saw it as only a stepping stone to London or Manchester. Maybe this time, the tale will be different.
Source: Keir Radnedge| AIPS Football Delegate