September 15 – The hiring of a law firm by Mike Ashley and Newcastle United to contest the Premier League’s decision-making over the proposed takeover of the club by a Saudi-led consortium raises new questions over whether the deal for the club could be put back together.
It also appears to confirm that the Premier League had made a decision to not allow the takeover to proceed. At the time of the Saudi withdrawal they blamed the length of time it had taken to get the takeover approved and a changing commercial marketplace for football.
That announcement appears now to have been a face-saving piece of public relations to protect the Saudi reputation, though the Premier League maintain that a final determination had not been made.
For Ashley – who reiterated to the clubs’ fans before the start of the new season that he is still keen to sell the club – in terms of the deal process it is clearly not enough and he has hired Blackstone Chambers in a bid to prove that the Premier League’s owners and directors test was not properly applied.
Joel Leigh, partner at London-based law firm Howard Kennedy, observed: “This planned action tells us that the Premier League did make a formal determination that the Saudi consortium’s bid could not proceed without further interrogation of leading members of the Saudi Arabian Government, as distinct from the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, under the Owners’ and Directors test. Otherwise Ashley would have nothing to dispute. This fact had been assumed but is confirmed by this intended appeal.
Leigh says that Ashley’s move is a ploy to bring the bid back into play.
“This is about one thing only – clearing a path to get the Saudis back to the table. Though Mike Ashley and Newcastle United are the ones bringing the action, no doubt they have the tacit backing of the Saudi bidders, who whilst keen to avoid negative publicity, will be keen to see the action succeed. This move tells us that if a deal can be resurrected, the Saudi bidders remain keen to do a deal,” said Leigh.
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