The Newcastle United takeover has finally happened. After nearly a decade and a half the most hated man in Newcastle, Mike Ashley, has sold the club to one of the most hated states in the world. Allegedly. Taking control of a football club is never easy, but this being Newcastle United this takeover was more complicated than most. About a year ago the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund (PIF), fronted by the public face of Amanda Staveley, approached Ashley with an offer he deemed good enough for him to relinquish his stranglehold on Newcastle United. Happy to sell, they took the deal to the Premier League who flat-out refused to let the club be sold. They claimed that this was down to the fact that the Saudi government, who would be a major player in the running of the club, had a horrendous human rights record. So bad in fact, that Amnesty International had kicked up a storm when it was revealed that PIF were the money behind the deal. With the Premier League refusing to let it go any further, the takeover seemed dead in the water.
A lot of people praised the Premier League for taking this stance – well, a lot of people who weren’t Geordie’s – but there were those among us – your friendly neighborhood football writer for one – who saw this stand for what it really was. It was never about the Human Rights record of the Saudi state, it was about the fact that the Saudi’s were illegally streaming games from the Premier League and, in doing so, they were cutting Bein Sports out of a massive amount of cash. Fast forward a year and the Premier League found itself in court, facing charges that its refusal to let Ashley sell to PIF was illegal, and then in less time than it takes to say “Mike Ashley would flog off his own mother if it made him a quick quid”, the deal was back on and the PIF found themselves the new owners of Newcastle United in a deal worth over £300 million.
So how did it happen? What changed the Premier League’s mind? According to them, their main concern was that the Saudi government would be the ones pulling the strings, but they claim that they have a legally binding document that states that the Saudi state will have nothing to do with Newcastle United. This is, of course, a load of baloney. It’s flim-flam to make it more palatable for the masses. The Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund is the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia, and to think that they, and King Salman, would willingly put up 80% of the buyout money, as well as the millions they will have to invest into Newcastle United to take the club to the levels they are promising, is naive at best and idiotic at worst.
No, what this was about was stealing live broadcasts of Premier League matches and cutting the Premier League and Bein Sports out of their cut of the money. Bein Sports holds the rights to show Premier League games in the Middle East but in 2017 the Saudi’s canceled their license during a diplomatic conflict they were having with Qatar. With no way to legally show the Premier League in Saudi Arabia, people took to illegally streaming the games on a massive scale, and the Saudi government was quite happy to turn a blind eye to it. This was the reason that the takeover was initially refused. Don’t believe me? Then let’s look at the facts. Two days ago, Bein Sports reported that their ban in Saudi Arabia was about to be lifted and they would soon be resuming their broadcasts of Premier League matches across the state. This was then followed up by the Premier League acknowledging that they had another legally binding document – the one that they really cared about – that said that the Saudi’s would no longer be allowing illegal streaming in their country. The same day, PIF took control of Newcastle United.
But let’s be honest here, most Newcastle United fans couldn’t give a flying fig about any of this. They don’t care about the Saudi’s atrocious Human Rights record – including the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi who was hacked to death in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul – or that the Premier League have used their club as a bargaining chip to make sure they don’t miss out on the revenue that they will receive for allowing Bein Sports to stream the most-watched league in the world across one of the richest areas. All they care about is what this means for their club.
So, what does it mean for Newcastle United? Well, first off, the club who were struggling to squeeze enough money out of Mike Ashley to buy cones for the training ground – probably – have suddenly become one of the richest clubs in the world. This means that when they say that within five to ten years they want to be challenging for the Premier League title, you better believe that in five to ten years they are going to be challenging for the Premier League title. But to do that, they have to stay in the league. Newcastle United are currently in the bottom three and with Steve Bruce at the helm, that’s where they are going to be at the end of the season. Bruce is for the chop. In fact, if he looks up anytime over the next week or so, he’ll see Madame Guillotine smiling down at him. Now, whether or not he loses his job within the next few days – at the time I’m writing this, he’s still employed – or if PIF allows him to stick around to the Tottenham match in just over a week – so he can manage his 1,000th game – remains to be seen. But when he goes – and he will – that leaves the question on just who they’ll get to replace him.
I’ve heard talk of Antonio Conte being lined up to replace Bruce, but I find it very hard to believe that a manager of Conte’s statue would be willing to take over at a club that is entrenched in a relegation battle and have a squad that consists mainly of Championship level players at best. Not when both Carlo Ancelotti and Ronald Koeman are under pressure at Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively. In truth, I doubt that any top-level manager would be interested in taking the helm at Newcastle United currently. Frank Lampard, on the other hand, would be more than happy to get stuck back into the Premier League and he wouldn’t be a bad choice. His tenure at Derby was good enough to get him the Chelsea job and – considering the restrictions he was forced to work under there with their transfer ban – he worked miracles for at least one season. Give him the Newcastle squad as it currently is and a transfer window to improve it and he’ll cut loose the deadwood and keep them in the Premier League.
I know that some Newcastle fans are expecting them to get to January and start buying the likes of Mbappe, but that’s ridiculous. Look at Man City, they needed a gateway signing in Robinho to get people and other players to take them seriously as a force, and Newcastle United will be no different. It won’t happen this window – unless the new manager manages to turn it around so spectacularly that they’re challenging for the top six within the next two months – but as long as they stay in the league, then next summer will see them sign at least one player that will raise the eyebrows of everyone else. They need to bring in someone with star quality, but they also need to overhaul the team entirely, so I fully expect the rebuild to start in January and the big name to arrive in August.
The future is bright for Newcastle United – of that, there is no doubt – and if any group of supporters deserves a break it’s The Toon Army. Finally, they can start dreaming of winning major trophies again and this time it will become a reality. Within the next five years Newcastle United will be back to the glory days of Kevin Keegan, but this time around they’ll actually have something to show for it at the end of each season. Just don’t mention Human Rights too loudly and everyone should be able to sleep soundly at night.