Newcastle United fans have long dreamed of ridding the club of owner Mike Ashley, but a £300 million takeover backed by the Saudi Sovereign Wealth Fund presents fans on Tyneside with a different dilemma.
Retail tycoon Ashley has been very unpopular in his 14 years in charge of Newcastle, during which time the club has been relegated twice from the Premier League before bouncing back into English football’s lucrative top flight.
Without a win in their opening seven league games of the season, the Magpies are again faltering near the bottom of the table.
But an influx of Saudi cash could herald a new era for one of England’s most enthusiastically-backed clubs, which can often boast over 50,000 attendances despite decades of failure.
According to reports, 80 percent of the deal will be funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, with British financier Amanda Stavley’s firm 10 percent and another 10 percent from British billionaire brothers David and Simon Reuben.
Fans are eager for the $408 million deal – which failed on its first attempt last year – but Amnesty International warns it represents “sportswashing” of the Gulf kingdom’s human rights record.
The Toon Army has long blamed Ashley for not investing enough to improve the team.
“A few years back there was a famous banner that read: ‘We don’t ask for a winning team, we ask for a club that tries.’ For the past 13 years we haven’t had a club that has tried,” a spokesman for the Newcastle United Supporters Trust (NUST) told AFP earlier.
“Under this ownership there is no ambition, effectively no investment and no hope for a sports unit that hasn’t been a sports unit. It’s there to survive and nothing more.”
Ashley’s actions have also done little to win over supporters.
He handed over the naming rights to the club’s St James’ Park stadium to his company Sports Direct in 2011, while there have been several disputes over ticket prices and refunds for matches played behind closed doors due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The prospect of owners with deep pockets, at a time when many other clubs will back down due to the economic crisis caused by Covid-19, is an attractive one for fans.
A recent NUST survey found that 94 percent of supporters were in favor of the takeover.
Manchester City’s 13 major trophies that changed their fortunes since their 2008 takeover of Abu Dhabi is an example of the difference that wealthy Middle Eastern owners can make.
Prior to 2011, City had not won any major honors since 1976. Newcastle’s barren race stretches back to 1969.
The controversial Newcastle takeover bid hit the rocks last year after the ire of Qatar-based beIN Sports, a major television rights holder of the Premier League, which was banned by Saudi Arabia in 2017.
Tensions between the states have eased significantly and Saudi’s ban on beIN is set to be lifted, with Riyadh also seeking to settle Qatar’s $1 billion arbitration claim over pirate broadcasts to Saudi viewers by the BeoutQ network. Is.
But rediscovery questions are already being asked about the proposed deal, with Amnesty urging the Premier League to consider Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.
The country faced international condemnation after the brutal murder of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate three years ago.
In February, US intelligence released a report accusing Prince Mohammed bin Salman of sanctioning the killing. The Saudis strongly rejected that assessment.
Amnesty UK chief executive Sacha Deshmukh said in a statement: “Ever since the deal was first talked about, we’ve said it was the glamor of top-flight football by the Saudi authorities in sporting their appalling human rights record. represents a clear attempt to do so.”
“Saudi ownership of St James’s Park has always been about image management for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his government, as it was about football.”