Eddie Howe says he had no hesitation or misgivings about taking the Newcastle United manager’s job despite the controversy over the identity of their Saudi Arabian owners and their motives for buying the club a year ago.
Howe has generally been reluctant to be drawn into a conversation about the moral questions surrounding the owners given their human rights record and accusations of war crimes in Yemen, as well as any wider discussion about sportswashing.
But on the anniversary of the £350m takeover, Newcastle manager gave his first detailed answer on why he has no problem working for them, pointing out that as well as passing the Premier League’s owners' and directors' test, the Saudi Arabian government is an ally of the UK and invests in all sorts of areas of the British economy.
Asked if there has been a moment of hesitation in accepting the job from the Saudi Arabian led consortium, Howe replied: "No, because when you look back the takeover happened very quickly. I don’t think there were any real rumours that it was going to happen.
“For me, through the owners' and directors' test, the Premier League ratified the takeover and I have to have faith in that process.
“When the job offer came to me I was looking at it purely on a football basis. Do I want to manage Newcastle United football club and the answer was a resounding yes from me for all the reasons I’ve given before. So, I was purely looking at it from a football perspective.”
When the relationship between the UK and Saudi government was put to him, Howe added: “That gives a different slant on a lot of what is said and yes I’m aware of that.
“I’ve never really answered these questions in press conferences because I don’t want to go into an area that is not a specialist subject for me. If I start engaging in those conversations, I go into an area where I’m not comfortable. I don’t have the knowledge.
“You could come back to me with another question and I go oooph, you have blown me away with that and I don’t have a follow up answer to it.
“This is a genuinely truthful answer considering how busy I am, I don’t have time to trawl through newspapers and look at political articles. That Is not really what I do. It is something that I am aware of happen, more from you guys and the media team here. So I am aware of it.”
“But, I am aware of that [they are allies] and I think it does give strength to the owners' and directors' test which was vigorous. My faith goes into that process.”
Howe replaced Steve Bruce as manager almost a month after the takeover had been ratified but had no idea he was going to get the job when the takeover went through after 18 months of deadlock.
“I do remember the day it went through,” he explained. “But not with any major reaction really. It was nice to see some of the scenes and the happiness. I had watched from afar and seen that it was a difficult moment previously.
"But there was no hint of what was to come for me so I was just watching like everyone else. I was pleased for the people."
'It is ludicrous to expect a football manager to publicly criticise those above him'
By Luke Edwards
Eddie Howe is right, the Saudi Arabian government is an ally of the UK - both militarily and strategically - and the country’s Public Investment Fund, which is the majority stakeholder in the consortium that bought Newcastle United for £350m a year ago, invests in all sorts of areas of the British and global economy.
There was no legal reason, once the issue of piracy had been cleared up and you could watch Premier League football legally in the Kingdom, why the Saudis could not own a Premier League football club - hence why the takeover was ratified a year ago.
The Conservative government actively pushed to get the problems stopping the takeover from going through, resolved, and there was direct communication between the then Prime Minister, Boris Johnson and Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.
It was, apparently, in the national and local interest for the takeover to happen according to the democratically elected government in 10 Downing Street this time last year.
Howe is not a politician. He has his limitations on his areas of expertise and openly admits that. He is an employee of a business and it is ludicrous to expect a football manager to publicly criticise those above him.
The Newcastle United manager cannot be expected to answer questions about the morality every week or about whether he has any misgivings given the much-publicised human rights issues in Saudi Arabia - but neither should he avoid them entirely.
Howe is a man obsessed by football whose success or failure depends on the results he secures on the pitch. No wonder his focus solely on the football side of things on Tyneside. That is the remit of his job and he is doing it very well, while spending money pumped into the club by PIF and their consortium partners.
It is up to others to debate the issue of Saudi involvement and whether their purchase of Newcastle represents sportswashing.
But who knows what the future holds. Saudi Arabia are allies of both the UK and USA and have been for decades but the geo-political situation is volatile and changeable.
The Crown Prince has recently been accused by some of cosying up to Russian president Vladimir Putin and has not condemned the invasion of Ukraine, which has united the West against the invaders.
This week, there have been reports that Saudi Arabia will cut production of oil, pushing up prices as we enter a winter energy crisis in Europe. As well as causing the West more economic discomfort and hardship, this will also help fund Russia’s war in Ukraine as they remain, despite a European ban on imports, one of the largest exporters of oil in the world.
US president Joe Biden had urged Saudi Arabia to increase oil production not decrease. There are questions being asked about whether this is the behaviour of a true ally.
Alliances can change and the political situation can shift. We are in turbulent times globally and we may also have a new Labour government in power within the next two years. Relations with Saudi Arabia may well change when we do.
As with Chelsea and their former Russian owner Roman Abramovich, Newcastle will face an uncertain future if the British government should have cause for serious complaint about the actions of the ruling regime in Saudi Arabia.
Alliances can be broken and countries considered trading partners and friends may not be viewed in the same way in years to come. In that respect, Newcastle are hostages to wider geo-political forces.
None of that, though, is Howe’s concern. He just tries to win football matches and improve a football team with the money provided to him to do so.