Newcastle United’s summer of uncertainty is likely to continue for some time yet but sources close to the Saudi Arabian-backed bid to buy the club do not believe the takeover is in danger of being derailed.
The Premier League are in the process of subjecting the Amanda Staveley-led consortium to the Fit and Proper ownership test and have been sitting on the case for four months. A one point Staveley and her partners thought they might have been given the keys to St James’ Park before the season’s restart last month but now Newcastle are planning to begin the next campaign with the club still under Mike Ashley’s control. The involvement of the gulf nation’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) in the buyout remains controversial. PIF is state owned and its chairman is the ruling Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The slow progress is frustrating for Newcastle supporters and the potential buyers but a source close to the situation shot down any suggestions that the bid is falling apart. “We don’t see a legitimate reason to stop the sale,” the source said.
PIF have put up 80 per cent of the cash in the £300m deal with Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners company and the Rueben brothers funding 10 per cent each. The source also played down concerns that the lack of movement from the Premier League and the negative publicity around the takeover would make the Saudis think twice.
“The decision making-process (leading to the involvement in the sale) was very deliberate. They (PIF) do not make knee-jerk decisions.”
The Premier League are taking a similar approach to ensure they come to the correct conclusion about whether the Saudi wealth fund will be appropriate owners of one the division’s bigger clubs. The regime in the desert nation has drawn criticism for its human rights record and its involvement in the war in Yemen. In April the fiancée of Jamal Khashoggi, the dissident journalist murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul two years ago, called upon the Premier League to block the takeover.
Almost a month has passed since Richard Masters, the ruling body’s chief executive, said that the Newcastle decision would be “concluded shortly.” The delay has caused ire on Tyneside where all parties are desperate for a conclusion to the uncertainty. It is difficult to be too critical of the Premier League because the deal has been overshadowed by the troubles of Bein Sports, the Qatar-based Premier League rights holder in the Gulf, and Arab geopolitical issues.
The Saudi government has been accused of facilitating the hijacking of Bein Sports’ transmissions in the Middle East. BeoutQ, which pirates the Qatari-based broadcaster’s content, has operated from Riyadh. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt have been blockading Qatar for the past three years after accusing the country of sponsoring terrorism. Doha alleges that the theft of Bein broadcasts is part of an ongoing cold war in the Gulf.
Last week beIn was banned by a Saudi court from operating in the country. This ruling adds to the pressure on the Premier League to be seen to back its rights holders and there is no method of legally viewing top-flight English matches in Saudi Arabia at present.
Ashley is said to have lost interest in the club and is preoccupied with piloting his retail empire through the aftermath of the Coronavirus lockdown. The billionaire is as keen as the fans to break his connection with Newcastle.
In the meantime, Steve Bruce and his squad are in a state of flux attempting to plan for an uncertain future. Likewise, Staveley’s plans for an overhaul inside the club have been put on hold. While supporters should not expect a massive spending spree on players should PIF become the principal owner of St James’ Park, there will be a bigger transfer budget available to the manager if the new regime in the boardroom is confirmed. There is exasperation on all sides, which will continue to grow until the Premier League finally make a ruling.
The takeover came at a bad time for football and the game’s authorities have been fixated on getting the sport back on track in a period of national emergency. However, the lack of clarity is beginning to appear counterproductive to all parties involved. Staveley’s group are still bullish about their prospects but now that the season is approaching the finish line a swift decision is necessary. Newcastle need to move forward under PIF or at least try to find another buyer to lead them into the post-Ashley era.