A Saudi Arabian backed consortium now looks all but certain to be the new owners of Newcastle United. Although the coronavirus pandemic has currently brought football to a standstill, the money men that run things are still buzzing and whirring behind the scenes. And after months of speculation, it appears that Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, could be about to make a rather large play in the global game. Along with a consortium of businessmen and women, the Private Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia (PIF) is rumoured to be about to purchase the Premier League football club, Newcastle United.
News emerged on Twitter this week that the proposed sale of Newcastle united, which had become something of a soap opera in recent years, finally looked close to being resolved. There was a reliable consortium in place, a deal on the table, an acceptance of price and it had all now reached one of the final stages of purchase: the Premier League Owners and Directors Test. This test involves background checks, proof of funding, business plans for the next three years and other financial checks. While it can often take between two and four weeks, many industry insiders believe that this could already be on-going, meaning that a much quicker decision could be made.
Who’s involved in the deal?
The big name is, of course, the Private Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia. This is the sovereign wealth fund of the Kingdom – of which MBS sits as chairman – and has total global assets worth around $320 billion. While the bulk of the finance lies here (it’s rumoured that PIF will own an 80 percent share in the club), the deal is being fronted by financier Amanda Staveley – her second swing at buying the club – and her Dubai-based company PCP Capital Partners, alongside the Reuben Brothers. The British businessmen are said to have a net worth approaching $24 billion and both they and Staveley would hold a 10 percent share in the club. Should the deal go through, it’s rumoured that the chairman is set to be Yasir al-Ramayyan, currently Govenor of PIF and Chairman of Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest oil company that boasts a worth of more than $2 trillion.
Why buy Newcastle United?
In a rapidly shrinking market, the opportunities to buy a major football club at a decent price are thin on the ground. As the most lucrative football league in the world, it makes sense to invest in the Premier League, and at $300 million – a $50 million drop from owner Mike Ashley’s original buy-out price – it represents good value. This is a club with a large fanbase, a good overseas reputation and a large stadium already in place.
While many have questioned the timing of the purchase – these specific Newcastle United rumours have been doing the rounds since January – the depressed market led to an unexpected drop in the price from the notoriously frugal Newcastle owner. And although PIF was heavily linked with a move to purchase Manchester United earlier in the year, the difference in sale price (MUFC was quoted around the $4 billion mark) means that, technically, they would need to spend much less with Newcastle United to see a form of success for their investment.
Finally, in simple romantic footballing terms, to take a club like Newcastle United – without a major trophy since 1969 and with a fiercely loyal and passionate fan base – and turn them into trophy contenders, would be rather joyous. It would certainly rival the impact of Abu Dhabi funding the 2008 renaissance at Manchester City.
So, what happens next?
In typical Mike Ashley fashion, nothing has been seen or heard from the truculent Newcastle owner since the news broke, and he remains holed up in his Florida holiday home. Newcastle United, too, has refused to comment on the deal publicly. Crucially, however, there has been no denial by any party. And while Newcastle fans have had their fingers burned the past when it comes to new ownership, this move looks more realistic than any that have gone before. If the ownership test can be resolved by May, it’s realistic to think that new owners could be comfortably in place for the season’s transfer window when it opens on June 10.
Does that mean Newcastle win the Premier League next year?
It would be highly unlikely. After the Abu Dhabi United Group takeover of Manchester City in 2008, it still took the club almost three years before it won its first trophy – an FA Cup in 2011. Of course, that was swiftly followed by 13 more over the next nine years. There’s also FIFA's Financial Fair Play rules – dictating how much a club can spend in correlation to its revenue – to tend with. Ultimately, the key to quick success would depend on the balance between a knowledgeable backroom staff, a competent and well-respected manager and patient, sensible purchases. If Twitter is anything to go by, however, none of that has bothered the Newcastle United fanbase. Faced with perhaps suddenly becoming the richest football club in the world, their main bone of contention is on the playing side. To give them credit, it's a good question... just how do you play Messi, Neymar and Mbappé in the same team?