Group headed by MBS complete £305m takeover of Newcastle United

Group headed by Saudi Crown Prince MBS complete £305m takeover of Newcastle United making the team one of the world’s richest – sending fans into raptures but renewing concern over human rights abuses

  • Saudi-Arabia backed consortium completed its purchase of Newcastle United for £305m on Thursday
  • As the news broke, Newcastle fans began celebrating wildly outside the the club’s St James’ Park stadium
  • But while they were celebrating, critics of the takeover said it was another example of Saudi ‘sportswashing’
  • It is believed Saudi Arabia’s PIF – chaired by Crown Prince MBS – will take an 80 percent majority stake  
  • Rights groups have pointed to human rights abuses carried out by de-facto ruler MBS and the country, including the treatment of women, murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the on-going war in Yemen

A Saudi-Arabian backed consortium completed its purchase of Premier League club Newcastle United on Thursday as a long-running takeover saga finally reached a conclusion.

Fourteen months after Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) withdrew a £305 million bid to buy the north-east club from owner Mike Ashley following the Premier League’s failure to give regulatory approval, a deal was announced after a day of mounting excitement on Tyneside.

After the Premier League confirmed the struggling club had been sold to a consortium consisting of PIF, PCP Capital Partners and RB Sports & Media with immediate effect, fans began celebrating wildly outside the St James’ Park stadium, throwing beer into the air and donning tea towels on their heads.

But while they were celebrating, critics of the takeover said it was another example of Saudi ‘sportswashing’.

Many opposed to the takeover point to Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women, its on-going war in Yemen, and the 2018 killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the country’s Istanbul consulate – found by the CIA to be ordered by the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) himself. 

Pictured: Newcastle United supporters celebrate in Newcastle Upon Tyne on Thursday after a Saudi-Arabian backed consortium completed its purchase of the Premier League club

Newcastle United fans celebrate at St James’ Park following the announcement that The Saudi-led takeover of Newcastle has been approved. Picture date: Thursday October 7, 2021

Pictured: Newcastle United fans wave flags at St. James’ Park following the announcement that The Saudi-led takeover of Newcastle has been approved. Picture date: Thursday October 7, 2021

Left: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). Right: Chairman of the Chairman of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) Yasir al-Rumayyan  Yasir al-Rumayyan. It is believed that PIF will have a 80 percent stake in the club

Financier Amanda Staveley arrives at Jesmond Dene House, Newcastle, ahead of an interview following the announcement that The Saudi-led takeover of Newcastle has been approved. Picture date: Thursday October 7, 2021

The resolution of the piracy issue plus assurances that the Saudi state would not be directly involved in running Newcastle United saw the Premier League give the green light for the deal to be completed

A statement from the Premier League on Thursday confirmed the takeover had been given the green light.

‘The Premier League, Newcastle United Football Club and St James Holdings Limited have today settled the dispute over the takeover of the club by the consortium of PIF, PCP Capital Partners and RB Sports & Media,’ it read. ‘Following the completion of the Premier League’s Owners’ and Directors’ Test, the club has been sold to the consortium with immediate effect.’

The statement confirmed that legal disputes over who would control the club following the takeover, and involving broadcaster beIN sports, had been settled. 

‘All parties have agreed the settlement is necessary to end the long uncertainty for fans over the club’s ownership. The Premier League has now received legally binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control Newcastle United Football Club.’ 

A statement from Yasir Al-Rumayyan, governor of PIF who will become non-executive chairman of the club, said the deal would mean long-term investment to ‘harness the club’s potential and build upon the club’s legacy.

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

Newcastle United fans celebrate the sale of the club to the Consortium of Amanda Stavely, Jamie Rueben and PIF Scenes at St. James’s Park, Newcastle as news of a takeover emerges on Thursday

Newcastle United supporters celebrate in Newcastle Upon Tyne, England Thursday Oct. 7, 2021

Jubilant Newcastle United fans gather outside St James’ Park on Thursday night, following the news that Newcastle United have been taken over in a deal backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF)

A view from St James’ Park stadium shows Newcastle United fans celebrating following the news of the takeover

The takeover, fronted by PCP Capital Partners’ chief executive Amanda Staveley, ends an unhappy era at St James’ Park and means Newcastle will be one of the world’s richest clubs.

A rapid sequence of events reignited the deal after Qatar-based broadcaster beIN Sports, a Premier League rights holder, said on Wednesday that Saudi Arabia would lift a ban on it and also shut down illegal streaming services, removing a major obstacle behind the collapsed takeover.

Another stumbling block was overcome after the Premier League, who came under pressure to block the deal last year, received ‘legally binding’ assurances that there was clear separation between PIF and the Saudi Arabia state, despite PIF being chaired by MBS. 

PIF – Saudi Arabia’s $430 billion sovereign wealth fund – is at the centre of plans to transform the economy before 2030 by creating new sectors and diversifying revenues away from oil.

It is believed that the PIF will take an 80 percent majority stake in Newcastle, making it likely that MBS will have a big say in the running of the club’s finances. The Saudi media minister, Majed al-Qasabi, also sits on the PIF board and he was involved in resolving the piracy issue.

Last year, Bin Salman lobbied British Prime Minister Boris Johnson after objections were raised to the takeover – telling him ‘we expect the English Premier League to reconsider and correct its wrong conclusion’ – and warned Anglo-Saudi relations could be damaged if they didn’t. 

The Daily Mail revealed in April that Bin Salman had lobbied Mr Johnson last year. Bin Salman told the Prime Minister: ‘We expect the English Premier League to reconsider and correct its wrong conclusion.’

In February, a US Government report concluded Bin Salman – the country’s de-facto leader – authorised the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi embassy in Turkey in 2018. He has previously denied ordering the killing or having any knowledge of it.

MBS has also been accused of being the architect behind the war in Yemen, which has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of children from starvation, according to human rights groups. Thousands of civilians have also been killed or injured in airstrikes in the country, prompting accusations of war crimes.   

Despite written assurances sent to the Premier League that the state won’t be directly involved, it’s difficult to see how they won’t influence the running of the club. 

Crown Prince Bin Salman pictured with Boris Johnson – Bin Salman warned Johnson that Anglo-Saudi relations could be affected if the Premier League didn’t approve the takeover

Intelligence services in the United States have named Bin Salman as signing off on the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi  (pictured) in 2018, inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul

Under MBS is Yasir Al-Rumayyan, governor of PIF, who will become non-executive chairman of Newcastle United. He is also a board member of Uber Technologies Inc amd SoftBank group, and the chairman of Saudi Aramco, the official Saudi Arabian Oil Company.

PCP Capital Partners’ chief executive Amanda Staveley is, with her husband Mehrdad Ghodoussi, expected to have a large say in the day-to-day running of the club as directors. Staveley was also involved in the high-profile purchase of Manchester City by Sheikh Mansour of the Abu Dhabi royal family in 2008.

Staveley, who once dated Prince Andrew, said: ‘This is a long-term investment. We are excited about the future prospects for Newcastle United. We intend to instill a united philosophy across the Club, establish a clear purpose, and help provide leadership that will allow Newcastle United to go on to big achievements over the long term.

‘Our ambition is aligned with the fans – to create a consistently successful team that’s regularly competing for major trophies and generates pride across the globe.’ 

The Reuben brothers, who made their fortune in property development – much in the local area – and have a net worth of £16bn, will take the other 10 per cent. In 2020 they were named as the second richest family in the UK.

Jamie Reuben of RB Sports & Media, said: ‘We look forward to a great future for Newcastle United. Newcastle is a fantastic city, which is why our family has been investing heavily in the area for many years. To become part of this great Club and its amazing fans is a privilege.

‘We will build a true community Club, based upon our family’s knowledge of the city and in line with our plans that have been worked on closely with Newcastle City Council to deliver long-term sustainable growth for the area.’ 

For years, Newcastle fans have been protesting against Ashley, urging him to sell their club

While there are well-publicised moral concerns over so-called Saudi Arabian ‘sportswashing’, as the oil rich nation seeks to soften its overseas image, the Magpies’ fanbase are clearly not concerned from where their saviours arrive. 

A poll undertaken by the Newcastle United Supporters Trust showed 93.8 percent of the club’s fans were in favour of the takeover.  

Hundreds of Newcastle’s so-called Toon Army supporters, who have protested against Ashley’s running of the club, gathered outside the stadium in the drizzle throughout the day, buoyed by news of the imminent takeover. 

Just after 5pm they opened cans of beer and broke into renditions of club anthem ‘Blaydon Races’ to celebrate the end of 14 years of dross under the ownership of Mike Ashley.

The last time there was such excitement on a non match day was when Alan Shearer signed for a then world record 15 million pounds ($20.44 million) in 1996 when the club were mixing it with big hitters.

‘Yesssssssss. We can dare to hope again!’ Shearer, whose statue stands outside the gates, said.

It was a sentiment shared by all Magpies fans after more than a decade of doom and gloom.

‘We’ve got our club back,’ they chanted.  

The fans at St James’ Park are gearing up for some huge changes following Ashley’s departure 

The Premier League, run by Richard Masters (pictured), gave the green light for the takeover after legal disputes were settled

Who is the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman? 

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is known as the true power behind the throne in Saudi Arabia.

His father, King Salman, was made ruler in 2015, and his son has been given a huge amount of say in how the country is government.

He won plaudits from Western leaders after he introduced some moderate reforms – allowing women in Saudi Arabia to drive for the first time ever and introducing cinemas to the country.

The Crown Prince – known simply as MBS – also reigned in the country’s fierce and ultra conservative religious police.

Leaders including Theresa May and Donald Trump have rolled out the red carpet for him during his lavish visits.

But the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi has severely damaged his reputation.

MBS has been accused of ordering the journalist’s murder, and the killing sparked calls for him to be replaced as Crown Prince.

While the Saudi authorities have publicly insisted the Prince does not have blood on his hands and did not order the killing, his reputation has been badly tarnished.

He also has directed the Saudi war in Yemen, were the kingdom has been accused of breaching international human rights law and plunging millions into famine.  

And questions were already raised about how ruthlessly he will crush opposition after he imprisoned Saudi royals in the country’s five star Ritz hotel last year.

He said he locked them up in a massive anti-corruption drove.

But his critics said that the move was a way for MBS to purge his political rivals.

Saudi Arabia has increasingly sought high-profile sports assets, including signing a 10-year deal to stage F1 and hosting Anthony Joshua’s heavyweight title fight in 2019.

Having a club with Newcastle’s potential in its locker is a major scoop for the oil-rich nation.

But Amnesty UK chief executive, Sacha Deshmukh said earlier on Thursday that the Saudi authorities were ‘sportwashing their appalling human rights record with the glamour of top-flight football.

‘Instead of allowing those implicated in serious human rights violations to walk into English football simply because they have deep pockets, we’ve urged the Premier League to change their owners’ and directors’ test to address human rights issues,’ she added.

Saudi Arabia’s government denies allegations of human rights abuses and says it is protecting national security from extremists and external actors.

Newcastle become the 14th current Premier League club to have majority foreign owners and fans hope it heralds a new era like that at Manchester City who have dominated English football since being bought by Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour in 2008.

French club Paris St-Germain have also made an impact under Qatari ownership with a host of mega-money signings. 

Newcastle’s takeover ends the 14-year ownership of Ashley whose stewardship has been deeply unpopular, with the supporters accusing him of under-investment and lack of ambition.

Since Ashley bought the sleeping giants, who last won a domestic trophy in 1995 and have not been top-flight champions since 1927, they have twice been relegated from the Premier League and have not finished higher than 10th since 2012.

Another relegation battle is looming with the team failing to win any of their opening seven league games and currently sitting second from bottom of the table and fans have been calling for Ashley and manager Steve Bruce to leave the club. 

Present manager Steve Bruce is deeply unpopular — held up as proof of Ashley’s lack of ambition, hired to fight relegation battles with cut-price signings rather than challenge the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool.

It has, however, not always been like this.

For a while at the start of the Premier League era, in the early 1990s, when former player Kevin Keegan arrived like a returning Messiah, it appeared that anything was possible alongside the banks of the River Tyne.

With millionaire local property developer John Hall as chairman, the old stadium was revamped and Keegan was given the funds to create a team in his image with the likes of Peter Beardsley, Andy Cole, David Ginola, Robert Lee and Colombian firecracker Faustino Asprilla, to name but a few, arriving.

Newcastle finished third in the Premier League in 1994, their first season back in the top flight, having almost fallen into the third-tier a couple of years earlier.

Dubbed the ‘The Great Entertainers’, Newcastle finished runners-up in 1996 after suffering a late collapse that saw them pipped by Manchester United in a finale to a season that will forever be remembered for Keegan’s wide-eyed ‘I will love it’ rant at Alex Ferguson.

With Shearer signed to lead the line they also came second to Manchester United a year later and Keegan left in 1997, the same year Freddy Shepherd replaced Hall as chairman.

Kenny Dalglish and Ruud Gullit both failed and although former England manager Bobby Robson staged a renaissance with fourth and third-placed finishes, he was sacked in 2004, precipitating a downward spiral.

The days when Ginola, Beardsley, Les Ferdinand, Shearer and the like had the Toon Army in dreamland now seem like a distant memory — but as Shearer said the dream is alive again.

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