Change of era for Newcastle: a Saudi fund officially seized the north-east England football club on Thursday after long negotiations and despite opposition from human rights associations. « We are extremely proud to become the new owners of Newcastle United, one of the most famous clubs in English football, » said Saudi fund boss Yasir Al-Rumayyan in a statement.
The club, owned for 14 years by British businessman Mike Ashley, is now owned by a consortium comprising the Saudi investment fund, PCP Capital Partners and brothers David and Simon Reuben. The buyout has received the go-ahead from the Premier League. “Newcastle are the best team in the world and we want to see them win top trophies in England and Europe. Obtaining these trophies means investment, patience, and time, explained Amanda Staveley, the club manager on Thursday.
The body which oversees the English Championship had however been arrested earlier Thursday by Amnesty International, the NGO being alarmed at a takeover by a sovereign fund of Saudi Arabia, and describing the human rights situation as « disastrous In the country ruled de facto by Crown Prince Mohammed ben Salman. The Saudis had already tried to acquire the « Magpies » during the summer of 2020, without success, handicapped by the personality of the crown prince, accused of multiple human rights abuses, and in particular identified by Turkish and American officials as the sponsor of the assassination in October 2018 of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Guarantees of independence
The second attempt is finally the right one, the club being « sold to the consortium with immediate effect » according to a statement from the Premier League, specifying that the organization has « received legally binding guarantees that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control the Newcastle United club ”.
The sale, which amounts to around 300 million pounds (380 million francs) according to British media, represents a « long-term investment » according to the CEO of PCP Capital Partners, Amanda Staveley, who adds aiming for “major trophies”.
Historical club of English football (it is to him that Juventus owes its famous black and white striped jersey), Newcastle had its heyday (four championships, six Cups) during the first half of the twentieth century. He has since above all shone by the fervor of his supporters, among the most numerous on the move, his taste for class players (Chris Waddle, Paul Gascoigne, David Ginola) and his transfers as expensive as ineffective. The last golden age dates back to the early 1990s, when the team coached by Kevin Keegan and led by striker Alan Shearer (as well as Marc Hottiger) struggled, in vain, for the title of champion.
Returned to the Premier League in 2017 after a year in the second division, this popular club from the north-east of England is in 19th place in the standings after seven days. Newcastle entered the circle of clubs dependent on the immense fortunes of the Gulf countries, after Manchester City came under the Emirati flag in 2008 and the takeover of Paris Saint-Germain by the Qatari investment fund QSI in 2011.
A federation close to FIFA
Saudi power thus marks a little more its presence in the world of sport, while the country has been hosting major car races such as the Dakar rally since 2020, or soon a round of the Formula 1 world championship, a way of responding to the ambitious policy of its regional rivals like Qatar, hyper-present for a decade with the culmination of the organization of the 2022 World Cup.
Saudi Arabia also has ambitions in football. In July, the project of a joint candidacy with … Italy to organize the 2030 World Cup was revealed by the site The Athletic. FIFA President Gianni Infantino visited Riyadh twice in 2021 to chat with Prince Mohammed bin Salman and it was the Saudi Football Federation who – officially – proposed on May 20, 2021 during the 71st FIFA Congress, the launch of a feasibility study on a World Cup every two years.
The tension between Saudi Arabia and Qatar had already appeared on the sports field, when the Qatari channel beIN Sports accused Saudi Arabia of being behind BeoutQ, a system of pirating sports images. The recent resolution of this incident had revived rumors of redemption, until formalization Thursday.
« We can start hoping again »
If former club players (« Yesssssssss. We can get back to hoping again, » Shearer tweeted) expressed their joy and hundreds of supporters gathered around the legendary St James’ Park to celebrate this redemption , the eruption of such power in English football also worries human rights activists, explicitly targeting Mohammed ben Salman.
Before the officialization of the takeover, Amnesty International had called on the Premier League to tighten the criteria to be able to acquire a football club in England. « Instead of allowing people involved in serious human rights violations to enter English football simply because their pockets are full », the NGO had « urged the Premier League to change its criteria (for selection ) of the owners and directors ”of its clubs.