By Andrew Warshaw
July 31 – In a messy, acrimonious end to a long drawn-out saga that couldn’t go on for much longer, the proposed £300 million take-over of English sleeping giants Newcastle United by a Saudi-led consortium has collapsed, leaving the club and its fans once again in a state of limbo and frustration.
Plagued by a combination of broadcasting piracy accusations and alleged human rights violations by the Saudi kingdom, the deal, which would have seen Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund gain an 80% stake in the club, was finally halted after the English Premier League prevaricated for four months over whether to approve it.
The British-based Reuben brothers and financier Amanda Staveley were planning to each buy the remaining 10% stakes to end the ownership of controversial retail entrepreneur Mike Ashley. But everything is now back in the melting pot.
“We have come to the decision to withdraw our interest in acquiring Newcastle United Football Club,” the consortium said in a statement. “We do so with regret, as we were excited and fully committed to invest in the great city of Newcastle and believe we could have returned the club to the position of its history, tradition and fans’ merit.
“As an autonomous and purely commercial investor, our focus was on building long-term value for the club, its fans and the community as we remained committed to collaboration, practicality and proactivity through a difficult period of global uncertainty and significant challenges for the fans and the club.
“Ultimately, during the unforeseeably prolonged process, the commercial agreement between the Investment Group and the club’s owners expired and our investment thesis could not be sustained, particularly with no clarity as to the circumstances under which the next season will start and the new norms that will arise for matches, training and other activities.”
“As often occurs with proposed investments in uncertain periods, time itself became an enemy of the transaction, particularly during this difficult phase marked by the many real challenges facing us all from COVID-19.”
It was what was left out of the statement rather than what was in it that was just as significant. The takeover bid had been hugely compromised by the World Trade Organization’s recent ruling that Saudi Arabia failed to prevent broadcasting piracy – including of Premier League games – by the Saudi-based beoutQ operator.
Amnesty International had also put pressure on the Premier League to consider blocking the bid because the fund was overseen by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who, Amnesty said, had been involved in a “sweeping crackdown on human rights.”
League officials also faced calls to block the takeover by Hatice Cengiz, fiancee of murdered journalist and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi whose assassination in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in late 2018 has been linked to the crown prince.
The club would have become one of the richest in world football and had already been linked with all manner of stellar names. Instead, failure to pull off the deal off was greeted with bitter disappointment from Newcastle fans, who were desperate to see the end of Ashley’s reign following 13 years at the helm yet have seen this all before when it comes to prospective new dawns.
Reuters quoted one unnamed source as saying that as well as the purchase, the consortium planned to plough £250 million into the club over five years while Staveley told the agency: “It’s awful. We are devastated for the fans.”
Newcastle’s official supporters body did not mince its words.
“The supporters of Newcastle United have been treated with contempt by large parts of the football media and the Premier League during this failed takeover process,” said the NUFC Supporters Trust. “It’s been made clear that we are the least important people in a decision which affects us the most. We need answers.”
But Peter Frankental, Amnesty International UK’s economic affairs programme director, described the bid as an attempt by the Saudi government to “sportswash” its human rights record.
“The fact that this sportswashing bid has failed will be seen by human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia as a sign that their suffering has not been entirely overlooked,” he said.
Attention will now switch to other potential buyers amid reports of a £350 million bid from American tycoon Henry Mauriss who initially made his money in the credit card business and since 2014 has been the CEO of Clear TV – a company that provides television broadcasts to airports and hospitals.
Yet time is against Newcastle as it would appear there are no other interested buyers, which doesn’t augur well for a transfer window that is already upon us, or for any alternative deal to be struck before the 2020-21 season kicks off on September 12.
Contact the writer of this story at firstname.lastname@example.org