Newcastle are set to become one of the Premier League’s wealthiest clubs after a mega-rich consortium, led by the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) and controlled by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, reportedly received approval.
The sovereign wealth fund headed by the crown prince, who is known as MBS, has been in talks to buy the Premier League outfit since January, tabling a £300 million ($365 million) bid alongside a team of investors.
A move by British politicians to block the bid as part of an investigation into alleged links between the Saudis and a piracy campaign that has affected Premier League television rights risked scuppering the sale entirely last week, but Forbes has now reported that the Premier League has approved the seismic deal.
Saudi Arabia will own around 80 percent of the club after reaching agreement with current owner Mike Ashley, according to the business publisher.
Ashley has been much-maligned by fans for his apparent indifference and lack of investment in the Magpies since taking control for $167 million in 2007, leaving some fan groups split by their desire to see the Sports Direct magnate depart and misgivings over ethical concerns surrounding the prospective new owners.
As ministers suggested they would launch their inquiry into the takeover, Hatice Cengiz, the fiancee of murdered dissident Jamal Khashoggi, pleaded with fans to reflect on his death at the country’s consulate in Istanbul in 2018.
“I implore you all to unite to protect your beloved club and city from [MBS] and those around him,” she wrote, adding that “all credible investigations” showed that the man who “controls his country with an iron fist” had been responsible for Khashoggi’s murder.
The takeover is likely to have wider repercussions for British football should PIF complete what should be little more than a formality with the blessing of the Premier League.
Their investment has been widely viewed as part of a power play between states in the Middle East, putting Saudi Arabia a step closer towards the sporting reach enjoyed by Qatar, which owns French champions and Champions League contenders Paris Saint-Germain and will host the World Cup in 2022.
They have around $300 billion in assets according to Forbes, giving them the power to transform Newcastle from underfunded also-rans into major contenders, as Sheikh Mansour, the deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family, has helped reigning champions Manchester City to do.
The sale also continues Saudi Arabia’s heavy investment in sport, despite critics accusing the country of attempting to “sportswash” its questionable human rights record and approach by paying huge sums to host events such as boxing world title cards and the Spanish Supercopa.
Newcastle coach Steve Bruce accepted his future would be in doubt under new owners but spoke with excitement about the new club owners amid rumors that they had flown to the city today.
“It would be wonderful,” the locally-born manager told Sky Sports. “To be part of it would be great. I would love to see it and I’d love to be part of it.
“I hope it’s where it goes but in the meantime I’ll just crack on, wait, roll my sleeves up and get on with trying to get some results to try and get the club going forward.
“Seven or eight clubs every year are just happy to stay and compete in the Premier League.
“It’s practically impossible to win something, so to be in a position where you’re actually challenging…I would back myself.”
Sports journalist Paul Smith claimed the consortium had instructed a London-based public relations company to work on the imminent confirmation of the deal and interviews after the announcement.
Even after an overwhelmingly positive initial reaction from fans on social media today, the group are almost certainly aware of the need to secure positive media coverage if they are to persuade critics that they are suitable custodians of one of the country’s most famous clubs.
For now, despite Cengiz’s warning that Newcastle’s reputation would be “stained forever” under their new proprietors, the PIF appears to have navigated the greatest hurdle of many on its way to assuming control.