January 27 – The annual talks of a sale of Newcastle United by owner Mike Ashley have begun again with the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (PIF) this time round being the buying party for £340 million.
PIF is Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s investment vehicle.
While the Saudis have previously been suggested as a potential buyer for the club, the talks with Ashley are understood to be at an “advanced stage”, though a wrinkle appears to have appeared via the potential involvement of businesswoman Amanda Staveley.
Staveley has previously been in negotiation with Ashley in 2017 for the club via her firm PCP Capital Partners firm for a sum of £300 million, but failed to come up with the cash, infuriating Ashley who called her a “tyre kicker” who was wasting his time. Ashley is reportedly furious at her involvement.
Staveley, along with the Reuben brothers, are said to be in line for a 20% stake in the club if the Saudi deal goes through. Staveley brokered the Abu Dhabi takeover of Manchester City.
Last year a deal brokered by former Chelsea CEO Peter Kenyon failed to go through when he failed to secure US funding for his proposed takeover.
But meeting the price tag is not an issue for the Saudis who are increasing their presence in sport and football in particular as a route to improving their global image following a series of human rights abuses, the fighting and funding of various proxy wars in the Middle East, and the ruthless capture and killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi embassy in Turkey. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has previously issued legal warnings against this publication’s reporting of the piracy of by satellite channel beoutQ of beIN Sport’s football broadcasts.
Just this year the Saudis have hosted Spain’s revamped four-team Super Cup as well as Serie A’s Super Coppa. Both events took place despite criticism from the wider football world and human rights organisations.
Newcastle are one of the best supported clubs in English football but have perennially struggling for success through lack of investment. Newcastle fans have become increasingly disillusioned under the decade-long ownership of sportswear retail tycoon Ashley with the north-east club having been relegated twice from the Premier League during Ashley’s reign.
However, money talks and an online poll in the Newcastle’s Evening Chronicle at the weekend saw a response of 80% in favour of the takeover.
Newcastle would become the second club in the Premier League with Saudi Arabian owners following the contriversial but legally enforced takeover of Sheffield United by Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad.
Any deal for Newcastle would require approval by the Premier League, and would inevitably be controversial given Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and an interesting test of their ‘fit and proper person’ regulations.
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