It’s a saga that has had more plot twists and turns than the average soap opera.
But it appears that Thursday October 7 is finally the day that Newcastle United fans have been waiting for – the removal of Mike Ashley as chairman to be replaced by a consortium of cash-rich Saudis.
Legalities and red tape have prevented the deal going ahead sooner, but now that the £300 million fee has been agreed, the consortium and the Premier League are sitting down to finalise the process.
Concerns on the part of the authorities that the bid was state-led, which would have breached the fit and proper person’s test standard, have been assuaged, while the bitter row between the bidder, the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, and broadcaster beIN Sports, has been resolved with the media giant now able to show Premier League matches in the country again.
It’s been a full 18 months since the consortium announced their interest in the Magpies, but they will take an overwhelmingly controlling stake of 80% in the club, with the expectation being that they will pump significant sums of money into an attempt to turn Newcastle into one of the biggest clubs in the world.
Steve Bruce is likely to be the first casualty of the bold new era, and he’s now as short as 1/4 with some firms to be the next Premier League manager to lose their job. Antonio Conte and Roberto Martinez are the reported front-runners to replace him.
There have long been accusations of the state of Saudi Arabia ‘sportwashing’ their human rights violations by making the place the home of world sports.
Formula One races, European Tour golf events and heavyweight title fights have all been attracted by Saudi investment, and now Newcastle United have also been seduced – the takeover could easily make them the richest football club on the planet.
But at what cost? The campaign group Amnesty International believes that the Premier League’s fit and proper persons test for prospective owners and directors should be changed so that it considers human rights breaches more carefully.
Sacha Deshmukh, the chief executive of Amnesty, has claimed that the consortium would use their association with Newcastle as a ploy of ‘rebranding a tarnished reputation’ – a direct reference to the sportwashing claims.
“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,” Deshmukh has said.
“The phrase ‘human rights’ doesn’t even appear in the owners’ and directors’ test, despite English football supposedly adhering to FIFA standards.”
The Public Investment Fund passes the current tests set by the Premier League as they are considered separate to the Saudi state, which would have prevented the takeover from going ahead.
The group will also have a ‘Western’ figurehead in Amanda Staveley, who is likely to serve on the new board of directors once/if the deal is completed.