It has been quite the few days for Newcastle United.
A club that sit second bottom in the Premier League, winless so far this campaign, now have the wealthiest owners in football after their takeover by a Saudi-backed consortium was completed on Friday.
The Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (PIF) now holds an 80 per cent stake in the Toon Army, the other 20 per cent split equally between Amanda Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners and the Reuben Brothers investment fund. The wealth of PIF stands at some £320bn, a figure that dwarfs the funds available even to the likes of Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain.
The controversial deal brought an end to 14 years of the deeply unpopular Mike Ashley’s tenure at St James’ Park, with the Sports Direct billionaire accused of a blatant lack of ambition or desire to turn Newcastle into anything other that a middle of the road Premier League side.
Staveley, who has been the key figure behind the £300m takeover of the Magpies, had in fact been fronting a bid to wrestle control of Liverpool from Tom Hicks and George Gillett back in 2008, leading a bid for the club involving Dubai International Capital (DIC). Staveley intimated that a deal had been close to take the club away from the American duo two years before Fenway Sports Group acquired the Reds in 2010. Staveley had also been linked to a DIC bid prior to Hicks and Gillett acquiring the Reds in 2007.
But Liverpool would play a part in what transpired over recent days, however, with Staveley admitting to have ‘fallen madly in love’ with Newcastle after watching the Magpies, then under the stewardship of former Liverpool manager and current Everton boss Rafa Benitez, draw 1-1 against the Reds in the North East on October 1, 2017.
“I fell madly in love,” Staveley told the Guardian.
“Newcastle’s unique; it’s like a fantastic gem which needs buffing up at every level.
“We looked at Liverpool and it didn’t work but when I came away from that game four years ago I went to our friends in PIF and said: ‘This is the only club we can ever buy.’”
But this deal hasn’t been without its controversies.
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The PIF bid, fronted by the face of the operation, Staveley, had been kicked into the long grass for some time by the Premier League who weren’t convinced that the PIF was independent of the Saudi state. Then there was the issue of beIN Sports having its ban lifted in the country to allow for the legal screening of Premier League games, a commitment being made to shutting down the piracy sites that operate in numbers in the country.
But it is the human rights aspect that has made this deal so unpalatable in the eyes of many, with Saudi’s questionable history over human rights, its treatment of the LGBTQ community and the questions over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at Saudi Arabia’s Turkish embassy in October 2018.
Staveley is adamant that the PIF is autonomous of the Saudi state and that the latter will have no say in the running of the club day to day. That is something that, while the Premier League may have claimed to have been satisfied, some in football have some trouble getting on board with.
“I understand and appreciate all the messages on human rights and we treat them very seriously,” said Staveley.
“But I wouldn’t bring partners into the consortium if they didn’t have the right record and PIF is autonomous and independent of the Saudi government. PIF owns Newcastle, not the Saudi state.
“In buying Newcastle PIF are not going to hide and we’re proud of them; we need, strong, brave, partners. I love brave, passionate, people, that’s how I do business.”
The takeover has not been warmly welcomed by the other 19 Premier League clubs, with Liverpool among those reportedly demanding to know what occurred for the Premier League to change its stance so much for it to be waved through and why the clubs received so little notice.
According to a report by the Guardian, Premier League member clubs are pushing for an emergency meeting next week after being united in opposition to a Saudi-led consortium being allowed to buy out Ashley this week.
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