Saudi Arabia’s sovereign-wealth fund is understood to be part of a consortium that could buy Newcastle United for around £340 million.
Telegraph Sport has been told by sources that the Public Investment Fund, known as PIF, is part of a group of investors which has been organised by the British financier Amanda Staveley.
A deal has not been agreed as yet with Newcastle owner Mike Ashley but it is understood that talks are taking place and if it goes through PIF is likely to become the majority owner of the Premier League club. Discussions have been on-going for weeks with the consortium code-naming their plans “Project Zebra” - because of Newcastle’s black-and-white stripes.
If Staveley is successful it will be a personal as well as professional triumph for her given she has been attempting to buy Newcastle for almost two-and-a-half years from businessman Mike Ashley and has come in for fierce criticism.
News of a potential takeover will inevitably be met with scepticism among Newcastle fans who have seen several false dawns but the buyers are serious in their intent.
Sources have told Telegraph Sport that Staveley’s company, PCP Capital Limited, will take a minority stake in Newcastle with other investors also involved as they attempt to finally end Ashley’s unhappy 13-year ownership of the club.
The key – the game-changer, in fact, it appears - is the expected involvement of PIF, which is chaired by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and the vast backing that potentially brings from the world’s largest sovereign-wealth fund. The Saudis have been considering how best to make a move into football for some time and have examined buying other clubs.
The fund is central to Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, a plan spearheaded by the Prince, who is heir to the throne, to diversify the economy away from oil and is also the driving force behind the country’s ambitions to develop new tourist and entertainment industries.
A report emerged in The Wall Street Journal on Saturday morning that PIF and Staveley were in talks to buy Newcastle and Telegraph Sport has established that it is hoped a deal might be announced soon. However, other sources, concerned that it has become public, have also urged caution and suggested that it was still possible that the takeover might not proceed. It has also been suggested that the consortium may still be falling short of the asking price.
If the deal goes through it will cause excitement among Newcastle fans who have been disillusioned for a number of years and who will be desperate to see what the plans are for the future of the club which is regarded as having huge potential.
Ashley bought Newcastle for £134.4m in 2007 and the Sports Direct owner has proved an unpopular owner at St James’ Park. Newcastle have been relegated twice from the Premier League during Ashley’s reign with the businessman accused of failing to invest by supporters.
Staveley’s ability to buy Newcastle has previously been questioned despite a series of genuine bids with, at one point, sources close to Ashley releasing a statement saying that, “attempts to reach a deal have proved to be exhausting, frustrating and a complete waste of time”.
If there is new ownership the level of investment in Newcastle remains to be seen but fans will be excited by the funds potentially available through the Saudi owners although it is understood that a plan of sustainable development is being put in place, including a substantial revamping of the training ground. Even so Newcastle can expect significant funds to be invested in the playing squad.
Newcastle declined to comment when contacted by Telegraph Sport.