At long last, the takeover of Newcastle United is complete.
For 18 months, the Magpies have been involved in discussions with their prospective Saudi Arabian owners and the Premier League. Human rights abuses, piracy and legal battles seemingly conspired to halt the deal, but the move has finally been brought over the line.
Of course, the battle to install new ownership at Newcastle has gone on much longer than that, with fans wanting Mike Ashley out practically since the moment he joined the club 14 years ago. Finally, their wish has been granted.
This is as complicated a takeover as you’re likely to see, so, here are five key topics today’s events shed a bit more light on.
1. Premier League say Saudi kingdom “will not control” Newcastle United
The takeover is worth £300m to Ashley, and results in a “100% acquisition of Newcastle United.” The Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund is providing 80% of the funds.
PIF is said to be worth around £300 billion. In comparison, Manchester City’s Sheikh Mansour is reportedly worth around £20bn.
The proximity between state and Newcastle’s owners is important because of the Saudi regime’s human rights record and factors that initially scuppered the proposed takeover. Namely, the fact Qatar’s beIN Sports, who have have a £400m deal to air the Premier League, launched legal action worth $1bn against Saudi Arabia relating to piracy of their broadcasts. This is thought (but not confirmed) to have previously prevented the takeover but, on Wednesday, it emerged that the issue has been resolved. A day later, the takeover was announced.
2. Why is the takeover so controversial?
After 14 miserable years under Ashley, reaction among Newcastle supporters can generally be described as joy. Some, however, are conflicted by issues highlighted by human rights campaigners.
People aren't highlighting alleged human rights abuses by Saudi Arabia for attention or for clicks, it's because there's very real concerns there that shouldn't be brushed under the carpet. It's okay to be happy Mike Ashley is on his way out while still acknowledging them.
— Jonny Sharples (@JonnyGabriel) October 7, 2021
Upon Thursday afternoon’s announcement, the Premier League stated they have received “legally binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control Newcastle United.”
But although PIF is presented as separate to the state, ruling leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is listed as the body’s chairman.
As such, the project has been described as “sports-washing.” Earlier in the day, Amnesty International chief executive Sacha Deshmukh’s urged the Premier League to consider Saudi Arabia’s “appalling” human rights record before allowing the takeover to go through.
As per the official Amnesty website, the nation is accused of: Using torture as punishment, executions, curtailing free speech, banning protests, discrimination against women, arrest and detainment without good reason, religious discrimination, mass deportation of migrant workers, banning human rights organisations.
Deshmukh also highlighted the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi regime who fled the country in 2017, and the “closed-door trial” of his killers.
Greg Tomlinson of the Newcastle United Supporters Trust told the BBC: “Clubs are bought and sold at the highest level by billionaires and sovereign states, and we have not had a say in that. But as a supporters’ organisation we will always support inclusion and be against discrimination and abuse of human rights.
“We will use our influence to effect change where we can.”
3. How quickly can Newcastle United expect success?
Focusing purely on matters on the pitch, Newcastle fans will now be dreaming of lifting some long-awaited silverware and the club finally emerging from their long slumber.
“Newcastle deserve to be top of the league […] It will take time, but we will get there,” Staveley told Sky Sports when asked where she saw the club in five to 10 years.
But just how much time? Three instances of clubs being bought out and going on to find immense success immediately spring to mind: Chelsea, Man City and PSG.
- Chelsea were bought by Roman Abramovich back in July 2003 for £140m, completely changing the landscape of English football. Within a month, Claudio Ranieri was replaced by Jose Mourinho, who led the Blues straight to a Premier League and EFL Cup double in 2004/05. Since then, Chelsea have won a further four league titles, two Champions Leagues, two Europa Leagues and seven more major domestic cups.
- Man City were bought by United Arab Emirates ruler Sheikh Mansour in August 2008, after Thaksin Shinawatra’s far less successful takeover two years previous. But unlike Chelsea, it took a little longer for things to get going and the 2010/11 FA Cup was the first trophy delivered under Sheikh Mansour. Of course, since then, some of the best players in the world have turned out for the blue half of Manchester, who have lifted five Premier League titles (the first coming in 2011/12 via that Sergio Aguero goal) and a bucket load of domestic cups. Last season’s final loss to Chelsea is the closest they’ve come to winning the Champions League.
- PSG‘s takeover by Qatar Sports Investment in 2011 sparked an incredible transformation for a club that hadn’t lifted the second of their two league titles since 1994, predominantly being known as a cup team. By 2013, they were Ligue 1 champions and have only failed to win the league twice since, while they’ve mopped up domestic cups at an alarming rate. Like City, the best they’ve managed in Europe is a Champions League runner-up spot in 2020, while they were knocked out in the semi-finals by Pep Guardiola’s men last season.
At the time of writing, Newcastle are 100/1 to win the 2022/23 Premier League with William Hill, but only 7/1 to do so by the end of 2026/27. William Hill also price the Magpies at 50/1 to lift Premier League and Champions League titles in the same season within the next 10 years.
4. Will Bruce be sacked?
Nineteenth in the table with just three points and no wins after seven games while exhibiting an unpopular style of play despite having some genuinely exciting players, the already low approval rating of Steve Bruce is plummeting by the day. It’s little surprise, then, to see reports he is not in the new owner’s long-term plans.
Asked about Bruce, new board member Amanda Staveley (a key figure in facilitating the takeover) said no decision has been made on his position.
So supporters’ wishes for a new man in the dugout might well be granted. Here are the favourites to succeed him, according to Sky Bet odds:
Realistic? Steven Gerrard (3/1):
- Clubs managed: Rangers
- Major honours: Scottish Premiership (2020/21)
- Highest league finish: 1st (Scottish Premiership)
Steven Gerrard has flown up the betting markets to become the favourite for the Newcastle job. But given his success north of the border with Rangers and previous links to Premier League jobs, it’s honestly more surprising he wasn’t up there in the first place. Gerrard has already shown his fondness for attacking football and ability to cultivate young talent. Stepping it up to the Premier League will be a totally different challenge, but you can’t accuse him of lacking experience there as a player, can you…
Dream? Antonio Conte (7/2):
- Clubs managed: Arezzo, Bari, Atalanta, Siena, Juventus, Italy, Chelsea, Inter
- Major honours: Serie A (x4), Premier League, FA Cup
- Highest league finish: 1st (EPL & Serie A)
For new owners, the first hire can often be the most important. It’s hard to think of a bigger statement Amanda Staveley and Co. could make than signing the currently unattached Antonio Conte. The Italian finally overhauled Juventus’ nine-year spell of dominance (that he started) last season, leading Inter to the Serie A title, while he’s also tasted Premier League and FA Cup success with Chelsea. Alongside his impressive silverware collection, Conte is a tactical innovator, while his name alone stands a good chance of attracting some star talent to St. James’ Park.
Wildcard? Rafael Benitez (5/1)
- Clubs managed: Valladolid, Osasuna, Extremadura, Terife, Valencia, Liverpool, Inter, Chelsea, Napoli, R. Madrid, Newcastle, Dalian Professional, Everton.
- Major honours: La Liga (x2), Champions League, FA Cup, UEFA Cup/Europa League (x2), Club World Cup, Coppa Italia.
- Highest league finish: 1st (La Liga)
Given Rafa Benitez only joined Everton over the summer, it’s incredibly surprising to see him so high up the betting stakes for the Newcastle job. But then again, he did so well with the club last time that it’d make sense. Plus, he didn’t even want to leave in the first place. Even so, the Spaniard has made a great start to life at Goodison Park and has strong family roots in Merseyside, so it’d be one hell of a shock if he gave all that up already.
5. How could Newcastle line up next season?
Given the financial restrictions in place nowadays, it’ll still be tough for Newcastle to completely overhaul their squad as Manchester City did after their takeover. A more “targeted” approach has been suggested. Besides, Newcastle still have a solid base of players, with Callum Wilson a lethal goal threat, Saint-Maximin as dynamic a winger as you’ll find in the Premier League, Miguel Almiron a great counter-attacking threat when played correctly, and Fabian Schar being one of the Premier League’s more underrated centre-backs.
Turkey international goalkeeper Altay Bayındır has been linked with a move from Fenerbahce, while Jens Cajuste could be a talented young acquisition in midfield.
Still, all eyes will be on the Magpies to see if they do go in for a couple of big names. Last year, Spanish football expert Guillem Balague said Philippe Coutinho was “waiting” for the Newcastle takeover to go through ahead of a possible transfer, with a yearning to return to the Premier League.
“Coutinho is waiting for that [Newcastle takeover] to happen,”Balague said. “He is the kind of player that they can have. His representatives are trying to get Coutinho into the Premier League.
“There have been talks about Arsenal, but nothing has arrived from Arsenal. Liverpool on loan? No truth whatsoever, Liverpool are not interested. The favourites from the Premier League are Newcastle, if the takeover is done.”
Well, the takeover is now done. Coutinho continues to play a frustratingly peripheral role at Barcelona, and the Catalan club’s financial situation has only gotten worse.
And then, of course, there were the reports suggesting Napoli centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly could become the “cornerstone” to the new era of Newcastle United last year. The Partenopei reportedly rejected €35m for the towering centre-back last summer, but the Magpies could significantly surpass that fee either in January or next summer.