Premier League stall on Newcastle United takeover as pressure builds to reject the Saudi backed deal
A consortium, lead by Amanda Staveley and confirmed to have the backing of not only the Ruben brothers (the second richest family in Britain) but also the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF), are on the verge of wrestling Newcastle United away from Mike Ashley.
News broke early on the morning of Tuesday 14th April that the historic deal was all systems go after a flurry of activity in Companies House as registrations of new Directors and relationships between companies kicked into motion. Key amongst them, a ‘Details of Charge’ document that formally tied a binding relationship between PCP Capital Partners (Staveley’s company) and St James Holdings Limited (the part of Mike Ashley’s empire that holder Newcastle United). Upon further investigation it became clear that not only was there a firm relationship now between the parties but that a deposit for the club had been paid by the buyers, to the tune of £17m.
In the frenzy of speculation and media activity that followed news was eventually confirmed on Sky Sports that a deal was ‘agreed in principle’ and that subject to the mandatory checks required by the Premier League the deal would go through, valuing the club at around £300m.
And, whilst you'd think that would be the hard work done, it wouldn't be Newcastle United without more drama to unfold.
Staveley and her team had prepared and submitted a 350 page document as part of the submission under what is called the Premier League Owners and Directors test. With her experience of delivering a similar takeover, that of Manchester City ten years ago, she has trodden this path before. And that may prove just as well, given the unprecedented scrutiny that has now followed.
For the involvement of the Saudis has caused nothing but a barrage of criticism and, more tellingly, open and explicit requests for the Premier League to block the takeover.
For those Newcastle fans watching it makes mostly baffling, but sometimes disturbing reading.
Amnesty International write to the Premier League asking them to seriously consider the Human Rights record in Saudi Arabia.
BeIN Sports write an e-mail to the Premier League urging them to reject the takeover, stating that the Saudi Government had been complicit in broadcasting piracy that had damaged their purchase of Premier League TV coverage in the Middle East. They also wrote to all Premier League clubs stating "the potential acquirer of Newcastle United caused huge damage to your club's and the Premier League's commercial revenues". Whilst few would deny that the Saudis have been less than helpful in tackling piracy in the region, there is also a political undertone to this letter. The channel being underpinned by on of Saudi Arabia's biggest enemies in the region, Qatar (who also own PSG). The less said about Richard Keys at this point the better, although it would be remiss of us not to point out that during one of his 'shows' the day before the letter was issued he introduced the subject as 'I wish it wasn't Newcastle the Saudis wanted to buy, I wish it was any other club'.
In a letter penned on behalf of the fiancee of murdered reporter Jamal Khashoggi, lawyers appealed directly to Richard Masters (Chief Executive, Premier League) to block the takeover, stating; "It is undoubtedly the right, proper and lawful action for you and the Permier League to take, especially in the light of the ruthless killing of Ms Cengiz's fiancee". There is a belief in some quarters that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), ruler and heir to the throne on Saudi Arabia, had a direct influence in the killing. Whilst in Saudi this has been strenuously denied, with officials stating that a 'rouge element' was responsible for this murder that took place in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Indeed official have long since stated they have taken action to punish those responsible and have sentenced 5 people to death and sent a further 3 to prison for the killing. You'll need to do your own research on this one as the whole episode is utterly horrifying.
And when you add in the pressure that is reportedly being applied from a number of currently Premier League clubs, who perhaps have their own selfish reasons not to want a rejuvenated Newcastle United throwing its financial muscle around not just England but Europe, you can see why this is quite the puzzle for the Premier League.
For certain the lawyers fees related to this application will be greater than any Owners and Directors test that has gone before. And you feel which ever way it goes the Premier League are going to lose something.
Not for one minute can you contemplate a proud nation like the Saudis taking kindly to being 'rejected' by the Premier League. Not when you consider the money and investment they plough into the UK. Their relationship with the UK government is as uncomfortable as it is fiscally necessary (we'll not bore you with pictures of MBS with the Queen or the Prime Minister, or other world leaders - you get the point).
On the other side of the coin the introduction of Gary Hoffman as the new Chairman of the Premier League could add an interesting twist. The thought of new lorry loads of foreign wealth sloshing its way into his League will not be lost on the former Investment Banker.
The other issue for the Premier League, of course, is that it is not MBS who is applying to be on he Board at Newcastle. Representation here will be in the form of Yasir al-Rumayyan, the governor of PIF, whilst there is also likely to be a permanent Saudi UK resident on the Board too. This gives the Premier League a huge headache, as for all it's rules, the only one they can really turn to in stopping the deal is probably this:
Meaning that the Board will have to provide their 'opinion' that either a potential Saudi Director, of the source of its money, would break the rules. Do they have the stomach to take on that legal minefield of essentially being the only organisation in the world to accuse and hold judgement of wrongdoing, indirectly, on the Crown Prince. Strong stuff. That is, of course, unless they change the rules mid process. And no-one can see that happening.
For Newcastle fans it feels very much like hunting for the end of a rainbow right now. Is there to be a pot of gold at the end of all of this?
4 weeks, the Premier Leagues indicative maximum timescale, has come and gone. #cans have been placed on ice to the point of freezing. What would have been joy will now perhaps be relief when all this is done and the polls are clear...
97% of those surveyed in a recent fans forum were in favour of a deal that would see Newcastle not just transformed, but would make the Magpies the richest club in the world.
If those dreams did come true then that is a subject for another day. For now, we all just want this to be over!