Sheikh Khaled sees Newcastle buy as an 'honour'

LONDON • Newcastle owner Mike Ashley is negotiating the £350 million (S$612 million) sale of the Premier League club to Abu Dhabi billionaire Sheikh Khaled bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

The news has produced much excitement on Tyneside but, despite reports in the Gulf it is a "done deal", there could still be a considerable distance to be covered.

While Newcastle have privately confirmed talks are continuing, Midhat Kidwai, the managing director of the Bin Zayed Group, which Khaled founded, said on Monday night "terms have been agreed".

He added: "We can confirm that representatives of Sheikh Khaled are in discussions with Mike Ashley and his team about the proposed acquisition of Newcastle.

"We view it as an honour to have the opportunity to build on the strong support, history and tradition of the club.

"We have agreed terms and are working hard to complete the transaction at the earliest opportunity."

A spokesman for the club declined to comment but it appears several hurdles remain and there are also caveats.

Despite living in Dubai, Khaled is a member of Abu Dhabi's royal family, and a cousin of Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour.

It had previously been regarded as unlikely that members of the same ruling family would buy rival football clubs.

Mansour's buyout of City was conducted amid the utmost secrecy and, as a rule of thumb, the takeovers that actually happen tend to be conducted in a similarly clandestine manner, so the leaking of details rings alarm bells.

Moreover any new owner would have to pass the league's owners' and directors' test.

Negotiations may or may not have reached that stage, but the league have adopted Newcastle's public "no comment" stance.

The Magpies' possible switch to Middle Eastern control perhaps explains the impasse over Rafael Benitez's contract extension.

His deal runs on June 30, but he has been in negotiations with Ashley over a new agreement and Khaled is thought to be keen to retain the Spanish manager.

Previous takeover bids by British businesswoman Amanda Staveley and former Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon evaporated after entering the due diligence stage.

But regardless of some nagging doubts, Khaled, who is said to have always been a fan of English football and has long harboured ambitions to buy a top-flight club, seems to be being taken much more seriously than most.

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 29, 2019, with the headline 'Sheikh Khaled sees Newcastle buy as an 'honour''. Print Edition | Subscribe