After being embroiled in one of the most promulgated takeover sagas in world football, the sale of Newcastle United to a Saudi Arabian-backed consortium has come to a sorrowful end, after the would-be purchasers withdrew their bid.
The group consisted of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, Entrepreneur Amanda Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners and Billionaire businessmen the Reuben Brothers; with the consortium agreeing a deal of £300m for the North-East club.
Unlike previous takeover bids for Newcastle United, this particular attempt had explicit substance. Not only was a deal agreed, contracts had also been exchanged between the two parties, while a deposit had also been paid; as witnessed on the Government website, Companies House. Everything was in place for the transaction to be completed, with the only aspect left being the Premier League’s Owners’ and Directors’ test – a background check on potential new football club owners.
Mass controversy surrounding deal
Typically, the tests take up to four weeks once conducted. However, this instance lingered on for almost four months. A small delay was understandable, given the widespread controversy sparked by the bid, with the Saudi PIF set to be majority shareholders. Issues such as human rights and sports piracy were raised, in relation to the Saudi Arabian ownership. Institutions such as Amnesty International and BeIN Sports were both openly against the transaction and had written to the Premier League to block the takeover, while a number public figures, politicians and football pundits also opposed the deal.
Although such concerns are comprehended, they are unrelated to purely football matters, which was at the forefront of the proposed takeover; giving the Newcastle supporters hope of a successful football club, after 13 years of misery and neglect under current owner Mike Ashley. Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden supported this stance and resisted the urges to interfere, stating it was a footballing decision which was ultimately in the hands of the Premier League to resolve.
Premier League are to blame
As the process dragged on, the buyers eventually lost patience and withdrew their bid, citing ‘worldwide uncertainty’ and a dubious ‘prolonged process’ as factors. Entrepreneur Amanda Staveley – who was at the heart of the deal – also spoke out and rightly blamed the Premier League for their handling. She stated “Of course we do (blame the Premier League). They had a chance, they say we have not answered all the questions and we have done so”, Interestingly, she also highlighted the deliberate stalling of the decision, adding “They were saying ‘you know what, we won’t reject you but we won’t approve you either, so we’ll just sit here for month after month’”.
Staveley’s last quote was a logical explanation, given the crossroads the Premier League found themselves at in regard to the deal. As BeIN Sports (who are Qatari-owned) are the primary broadcasters of the Premier League in the Middle East, an approval of the takeover would have incensed their relations with Qatar (given the country’s public feud with Saudi Arabia). Whereas if the deal were rejected, the Saudi Arabian Government would then be infuriated, which would also be damaging, given their close relations with the UK Government. It is this uncertainty and somewhat mockery that led to the consortium pulling out of their bid, while they are not blamed at all for doing so.
An element of corruption can also be evident from this occurrence. Staveley also mentioned that several of the top PL clubs ‘briefed heavily’ against the deal, adding they were ‘jealous’. It is not the first occasion the PL have faced corruption allegations, with former referee Mark Halsey hinting at it during an interview in 2016, stating that it was told to give certain decisions before matches in order to favour certain clubs.
The news has shattered the hearts of Newcastle United supporters, who are one of the most passionate sets of fans in football and wish only for a team that they can be proud of and one that thrives. The verity that the deal almost succeeded causes even more pain, as there was hope that the 13 years of mediocrity and neglect under Ashley was about to end.
Not only would Ashley have been dethroned, but owners would arrive who understood the club, the fans and the region. Staveley also stated she was ‘heartbroken’ and had sympathy for the fans; a fanbase who she felt a ‘kinship’ towards. She also detailed that her consortium would invest into the North-East region, as well as the football club, in a huge redevelopment programme, highlighting a more personalised approach to ownership.
It is up to the fans now
Staveley concluded her statement, citing “It’s up to the fans now. Because if they want this back on then they’re going to have to go to the Premier League and say ‘this isn’t fair’”. The Toon faithful reacted instantly. A petition that circulated, urging the PL owners tests to be investigated, reached over 65,000 signatures in a number of days, while the Geordies were also busy on twitter. #PremierLeagueIsCorrupt and #ApproveTheSale were trending nationwide, in another attempt for the Premier League to be held accountable, as well as gaining more understanding on the situation and shedding light on it.
Another twist in the saga?
One glimmering hope for the Toon Army is that all the parties related to the sale have not completely ruled it out. Staveley stated “I don’t want to give up”, while current Newcastle managing director Lee Charnley maintained this stance ““Never say never, but to be clear Mike Ashley is 100% committed to this deal (sale)”. A statement on behalf of the Reuben brothers also reiterated their support for the deal, reading “We would welcome any resurrection of talks and progress with the Premier League and are aware that the Reuben brothers remain totally supportive of the deal should there be a way forward.”
With the Premier League hierarchy gaining more scrutiny than they are used to, as well as key figures still affirming their desires for the acquisition of Newcastle United, we hope that this is not the end of the saga just yet.