The Newcastle United takeover saga rumbles on but belief remains strong in the Amanda Staveley camp that the consortium backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) will win control of St James’ Park eventually.
Staveley and her partners, who also include the billionaire Reuben brothers, withdrew from the £300 million transaction in June after reaching an impasse with the Premier League. The ruling body were not satisfied with how the club would be administrated on a day-to-day basis under the new ownership and concerned about the influence of the Saudi Arabian regime.
Even though the group walked away from the acquisition of their own volition, the appetite to acquire St James’ Park remains strong. The focus of the dispute has switched to Mike Ashley, who is reviled by the fans and eager to sell up. Ashley issued a statement this week in response to news of his legal action against the Premier League reaching the public domain. The Newcastle owner is seeking arbitration and is as frustrated as the supporters at the slow pace of the case.
Sources close to the consortium have consistently maintained that interest in buying the club has not faded in the five months since the offer was taken off the table. They insist that PIF’s commitment remains strong and the Reubens are eager to make the deal. Staveley is keeping a low profile while the dispute between Ashley and the Premier League is played out but the potential owners believe the club will eventually end up in their hands. “It’s time to be patient,” an insider said. “The prize will eventually come our way.”
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Ashley is a willing seller and has worked hard to find buyers. Realistic investors in top-flight clubs are thin on the ground, especially with the Covid-19 emergency affecting income across football. The retail tycoon is aware that if Staveley and her Saudi backers go cold on the sale he may be stuck with Newcastle for the foreseeable future.
If arbitration happens it will probably drag the uncertainty into the new year. There have been suggestions from Ashley’s side that the Premier League might be reluctant to disclose some of the information about their handling of the owners’ and directors’ test. If true, this would make a settlement more likely. The organisation mulled over the takeover for 17 weeks and had still not reached a conclusion at the time the consortium stepped away. Both Ashley and his buyers suspect that stalling tactics have been deployed in a bid to cause the Saudis to lose patience and take their money elsewhere. They contend that this has just delayed the inevitable.
Human rights groups have been vocal in objecting to the desert kingdom’s attempt to buy into the English game but the Premier League’s concerns are less about abuses of freedom than financial and political matters. The Saudi state’s links with the pirating of Qatari-based beIn Sports broadcasts in the Gulf complicated matters. BeIn is the television rights holder in the region and has complained about the theft of its material and its treatment by the Saudi government, a regime that is leading a region-wide boycott of Qatar.
These geopolitics are of no interest to Ashley. While the owner argues that there is no legal basis to block the sale, Staveley continues to wait for a resolution on the sidelines. The controversy is unlikely to go away.
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