Magpies set to soar

US$400m takeover of Newcastle by the Saudis confirmed after dispute resolved

LONDON • Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund has taken over Newcastle United after it received approval from the English Premier League (EPL) following an 18-month wait.

It comes a day after a major stumbling block to the deal had been removed by Saudi Arabia agreeing to lift a broadcasting ban on Qatar-based BeIn Media Group.

"Following the completion of the Premier League's Owners' and Directors' Test, the club has been sold to the consortium with immediate effect," the league said in a statement yesterday.

The EPL had also sought assurances over the independence of the Public Investment Fund (PIF) as owners, given its status as a state-owned investment fund.

"The Premier League has now received legally binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control Newcastle United Football Club," said its statement.

The US$400 million (S$543 million) deal in which Newcastle owner Mike Ashley would cede control of the team to an ownership group led by the PIF had been reached more than a year ago.

But the sale appeared to collapse over a years-long dispute between Saudi Arabia and beIN Media Group, the Qatar-based television network that owns the broadcast rights to the English top flight in the Middle East.

BeIN accused the Saudis of hosting and operating beoutQ, a rogue television network that pirated billions of dollars' worth of content that had been sold to the Qatari broadcaster.

The Newcastle sale was drawn into that dispute last year when beIN officials lobbied league officials and the British government not to approve the takeover.

Facing mounting public pressure and citing "an unforeseen prolonged process", the Saudi-led group withdrew the bid.

Under Premier League rules, prospective buyers of teams are required to be vetted in order to meet a so-called fit-and-proper standard required of new owners.

  • 13 Major trophies Manchester City have won since the Abu Dhabi United Group took over in 2008.

    19 Major trophies Paris Saint-Germain have won since Qatar Investment Authority took over in 2011.

The group involved in the Newcastle takeover, which also includes the British businesswoman Amanda Staveley and property billionaires, the Reuben brothers, walked away after the league spent months deliberating over the sale.

Amnesty International yesterday called on the Premier League to take into account human rights abuses and "sportswashing" by the Saudis as part of the approval bid.

However, none of those issues were a stumbling block to the deal.

The head of PIF, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, will be the non-executive chairman of Newcastle.

"We are extremely proud to become the new owners of Newcastle United, one of the most famous clubs in English football," Al Rumayyan said. "We thank the Newcastle fans for their tremendously loyal support over the years and we are excited to work together with them."

Jamie Reuben and Staveley, who has put the deal together, will also join the board.

PIF will reportedly hold a majority 80 per cent shareholding, with the Reuben brothers and Staveley taking the remaining 10 per cent apiece.

A Saudi takeover would be the latest infusion of sovereign Gulf money into European football, joining City, whose takeover occurred in 2008, and the Qatari takeover of Paris Saint-Germain in 2011.

The seemingly bottomless resources of those ownership groups have since built teams who are now firmly established as among the best in Europe, and reshaped world football as the only two billion-dollar teams.

The Magpies, hindered by years of neglect and underspending by Ashley, will need hundreds of millions of investments before a top-four challenge will be feasible.

Since Ashley's takeover 14 years ago, the club's net spend per year has been just £9.3 million (S$17.2 million) and they have flirted with relegation in recent seasons, going down as recent as 2015-16.

The new owners' immediate aim would be to preserve their stay in the top flight - Newcastle are languishing in 19th spot this season - and the January transfer window could likely see some new arrivals.

The future of manager Steve Bruce is also uncertain. His two-year stint at St James' Park has not worked out with fans frustrated with his negative tactics.

The Telegraph has reported that he is expected to be replaced and the bookmakers have made him the new favourite to leave his job after Watford's Xisco Munoz became the first managerial casualty of the term.

It will be a process that will not bear fruit overnight but long-suffering Newcastle supporters had flooded social media in anticipation of the big news.

Despite their last trophy coming 66 years ago in the 1955 FA Cup, the Magpies are still considered to be sleeping giants because of their fervent fan base and the 52,000-capacity St James' Park is consistently sold out.

Players, past and present, are looking forward to what the future holds. French winger Allan Saint-Maximin, the team's star player, yesterday tweeted a laughing meme video in anticipation, while Newcastle legend Alan Shearer teased: "I've been out all day. Anything happening?"

Former defender Warren Barton also told local daily The Chronicle: "It's wonderful to dream because I haven't dreamt for 14 years. The fans deserve it, the city deserves it and the football club deserves it as well because it's a wonderful place."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 08, 2021, with the headline 'Magpies set to soar'. Subscribe