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Newcastle United: Is the ownership saga finally drawing to an end?

Newcastle United

It is fair to say that things have not been going well for Newcastle United in recent years. Currently standing in 14th place in the Premier League, they’ve got squad problems and an ongoing battle with that north-east tyrant. Things have to change. A Saudi-led consortium have got big plans in the Premier League and United are the club they want...

Newcastle United – Mike Ashley Ownership

In 2007, Mike Ashley purchased Newcastle United for a fee of £134 million, and he’s been trying to get rid of it ever since. The thing letting him down: his greed.

Soon after Mike Ashley began his reign, he declared that he was going to sell the club. This decision was provoked by the protests following the resignation of Kevin Keegan; his mind was altered soon after but there were already tumultuous times ahead.

After relegation to the Championship in 2009, he once again put the Magpies up for the sale. Ups and downs later (mostly downs), he decided that it was time to leave his post for good. Newcastle United was to be sold in 2017, then 2018. Two years later and we are still waiting.

It’s not hard to see that Mike Ashley is a ditherer when it comes to running the club. He bought the Magpies and tried to sell right away, constantly changing his decisions. He even said that he was not going to leave the club until Newcastle United had won a trophy. However, Newcastle aren’t anywhere near one and the fans are beyond fuming.

Mike Ashley’s reign was far from the best. The Magpies were relegated twice from the Premier League. He let the fans and the city down. But despite his promises to step away, he remained as the owner of the club. Some fans believe that Ashley never actually tried to sell Newcastle United in the first place. I think the time has come for Ashley to sell The Magpies and give the team some ambition and a possibility to succeed.

This uncertainty reflects on the pitch. Steve Bruce in charge and the team offering an average of 39.1% possession, Newcastle are in trouble. From the start of Ashley’s tenure, he couldn’t return United to the major English force that they once were. Heart-breaking if we consider that Newcastle were once neck and neck with the top teams across Europe.

This time the takeover is real

Before the start of 2019/20 season, Newcastle were the centre of attention. Another possible takeover came short, the media said it was because of Ashley’s overvaluation of the club. Fans are turning their backs on their beloved club. The first 10 games saw the lowest average attendance at St. James’ Park since 2000.

From 2017, when Ashley put the club for the sale, he received offers from potential buyers. Initially, it was Amanda Staveley. Then it was Peter Kenyon, who had managed Manchester United and Chelsea. Finally, Emirati royal Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan – who is a relative of Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour – wanted to buy the Magpies. This time, rumour has it that this is the deal.

This time, the takeover talks have included Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) who, as various sources claim, are willing to pay as much as £340 million, and Amanda Staveley and according to BBC if PIF successfully closes the deal, she will get 10% stake. Sources stating that the deal is in an “advanced” stage.

Politics of football in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is an authoritative state that constantly receives one of the lowest scores on the Economist’s Democracy Index and is categorised as an authoritarian regime. The Public Investment Fund is Saudi’s sovereign wealth bucket and invests in a wide variety of projects. It helped Saudi Arabia establish themselves as “a global investment powerhouse”. The chairman of PIF is the Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, the key actor of the negotiations.

PIF is on course to raise its assets to $400 billion by the end of 2020, they funding famous companies such as Tesla and Uber. It’s easily understood that the Saudi-led consortium can invest money into Newcastle and turn the now-ordinary team into top-6 challenger, but it won’t be an easy task.

Every single aforementioned feat of PIT, and Saudi Arabia in general, could serve the country’s image on the international stage. They need increased soft power because their policies are often criticized by the western countries as oppressive and systematically discriminating against minorities. To put it simply this is the act of sportswashing. The acquisition of a team in the Premier League as The Guardian’s Karim Zidan points out, is an attempt to distract people away from their human right abuses.

Furthermore, this move may show the clear struggle amongst the nations of the Arabian Peninsula. Saudi Arabia have officially severed ties with Qatar, where the World Cup will be held in 2022. Also, it is becoming a theme that middle-eastern are making a big push to acquire worldwide events, such as sporting tournaments.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had already hosted the Supercopa de Espana earlier this month. But Saudi’s main opponent on the Peninsula is the UAE (Manchester City is owned by the Emirati royal Sheikh Mansour), not Qatar. But these two countries have neighbourly relations with each other and their foreign policy is also quite similar.

It’s no news that, for Saudi Arabia, sport is part of politics. Additionally, increased attention on sports is part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 project, which indicates that they attempt to transform to a vibrant, future society, becoming less dependent on oil.

Conclusion

If Mike Ashley is to sell the club, it will be better for everyone. The Magpies need investment and are pressed for time. Ashley could also get free of the all the abuse. The way out of the situation is certainly an immediate close of the deal.

The Saudis’ have seemingly impressive plans for the future and won’t neglect the club, unlike Ashley. But only time could tell whether the Sports Direct boss is ready to sell.

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