A Saudi-backed consortium has completed its acquisition of Premier League club Newcastle United.
- Owner Mike Ashley had been an unpopular figure in Newcastle for several years
- The Saudi-backed consortium had a failed bid to buy the club 14 months ago
- Newcastle United fans celebrated outside the club’s St James’ Park grounds
The move signaled the end of a long-running takeover saga that the majority of the club’s supporters wanted, but was dampened by the Premier League’s lack of legislative approval.
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) drew a bid of £ 305 million ($ 567.87 million) to buy the Northeast club from owner Mike Ashley 14 months ago due to the lack of regulatory approval.
After the Premier League confirmed that the struggling club had been sold to a consortium of PIF, PCP Capital Partners and RB Sports & Media with immediate effect, fans began celebrating outside St James’ Park Stadium.
A statement from Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the governor of PIF, who will be the non-executive chairman of Newcastle United, said the deal would mean long-term investment to “exploit the club’s potential and build on the club’s legacy.
“We are extremely proud to be the new owners of Newcastle United, one of the most famous clubs in English football,” he said.
The takeover, ahead of PCP Capital Partners ‘CEO Amanda Staveley, is ending an unhappy era at St James’ Park, making Newcastle one of the world’s richest clubs.
Mrs Staveley gets a seat on Newcastle’s board along with Jamie Reuben from RB Sports & Media.
“This is a long-term investment,” Ms Staveley said in a statement.
“Our ambition is in line with the fans – to create a consistently successful team that regularly competes for big trophies and creates pride across the globe.”
Rapid development leads to long-awaited agreement
A rapid series of incidents revived the deal after Qatar-based television company beIN Sports, a holder of rights in the Premier League, said Saudi Arabia would lift a ban on it and also shut down illegal streaming services and remove a major obstacle behind the collapsed takeover.
Another stumbling block was overcome after the Premier League, which was pressured to block the deal last year, received “legally binding” assurances that there was a clear separation between the PIF and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, despite the PIF being led of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“All parties are delighted to have completed this process providing security and clarity to Newcastle United Football Club and their fans,” the Premier League said.
The fate of Newcastle coach Steve Bruce will be high on the agenda for the new owners who are eager to invest in the club.
“I know everyone has a lot of questions about managers and players and things, but right now we just want to get there and do a review of the company. We want to tell you all the plans,” Staveley told reporters after the deal was announced.
Hundreds of Newcastle’s so-called Toon Army supporters, who have been protesting Mr Ashley’s run of the club, gathered outside the stadium in torrential rain all day, soaked in news of the impending takeover.
While celebrating, others said it was yet another example of Saudi Arabia being “sportswashed.”
Accusations of ‘sports washing’
PIF – Saudi Arabia’s $ 430 billion ($ 588.2 billion) sovereign wealth fund is at the heart of plans to transform the economy by creating new sectors and diversifying revenues away from oil.
The country has increasingly sought high-profile sports assets, including signing a 10-year deal for stage F1 and hosting an Anthony Joshua world heavyweight title fight in 2019.
Having a club with Newcastle’s potential in the closet is a big scoop for the oil – rich nation.
But Amnesty Britain’s chief executive Sacha Deshmukh said the Saudi authorities were “sporting their horrific human rights record with the glamor of top football.
“Instead of letting those involved in serious human rights violations go into English football, simply because they have deep pockets, we have called on the Premier League to change their owners ‘and directors’ tests to address human rights issues,” he added.
The Saudi Arabian government denies allegations of human rights violations, saying it protects national security from extremists and external actors.
Newcastle will be the 14th current Premier League club to have foreign owners and fans hoping to herald a new era like the one in Manchester City that has dominated English football since being bought by Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour in 2008 .
French club Paris St-Germain have also had influence under Qatari ownership with a host of mega-money signings.
Newcastle’s takeover ends the 14-year ownership of Mr Ashley, whose management has been deeply unpopular, with supporters accusing him of underinvestment and lack of ambition.
Since Ashley bought the sleeping giants, who last won a domestic trophy in 1955 and have not been top champions since 1927, they have twice been relegated from the Premier League and have not finished higher than 10th since 2012.
Another relegation battle is threatening with the team not winning any of their seven opening matches and currently sits second from the bottom of the table.
Fans have urged Mr Ashley and manager Bruce to leave the club.
Reuters / ABC