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8 Oct, 2021 10:51

Unrivaled riches, moral ambiguity & nervy rivals: The big questions raised by the Saudis’ Newcastle takeover

Unrivaled riches, moral ambiguity & nervy rivals: The big questions raised by the Saudis’ Newcastle takeover

Perennial Premier League underachievers Newcastle United have been taken over by a Saudi consortium with endless funds. But what are some of the questions thrown up by the coup and how does it affect the modern game?

Saudi financial firepower could blow rivals out of the water 

Ending the dominance of more traditional teams such as Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool, the takeovers of Chelsea and Manchester City by Russian and UAE-based owners fundamentally changed the landscape of English football.

This saw the superpowers shift from the 'Big Four' to the 'Big Six', including Tottenham Hotspur, but this will soon become a 'Big Seven' with the financial might of the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) dwarfing those of domestic and continental rivals.

For a quick comparison, Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour is said to boast a not too shabby $31.3 billion, but the Saudi PIF which bought Newcastle for around £300 million ($409 million) is rumored to have $435 billion in assets. 

Though there are reports that the group does not want to make signature signings and a big splash, and instead wait to get the lay of the land economically and assess things properly, Amanda Staveley, who has helped broker the deal, has confessed that the plan is to win the Premier League in five to 10 years.

It is interesting what this could mean for Champions League places, of which there are only four for English teams. 'The Big Six' might just have to make way for another arrival in the not-so-distant future. 

Inflated transfer market and clickbait stories in overdrive 

People lament 'the Neymar Effect', and how PSG changed the market forever when their Qatari owners paid almost $260 million to release the Brazilian from his FC Barcelona contract back in 2017. 

But the prices have always been inflated in the Premier League, and when the Saudis do start splashing the cash, as seems inevitable, values will rise even higher for some players that are pretty average where stars like Jack Grealish go for $117 million.

Despite their supposed protests about not going big right away, The Guardian has deducted that due to Mike Ashley's reluctance to spend money which led to the club turning a tiny profit in the pandemic, the next three years of profit and sustainability allowance will see Newcastle able to spend around $200 million in the next year to hasten the transformation. 

As Barcelona will tell you after spending premiums on Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho post-Neymar for instance, there is nothing worse than other clubs knowing you have money to burn and a need to spend it.  

For all the complaining from certain portions of the media about the ethics of the Saudi takeover or lack thereof, they will still revel in endless transfer clickbait linking Newcastle United to every man and their dog worth purchasing.

Genuine interest, proxy war with Qatar, or 'sportswashing'? And what happens if the Saudis get bored?

With a long-standing piracy battle with Qatar-based beIN Sports one of the supposed reasons behind the delays when the Saudis first launched their bid for Newcastle 18 months ago, the two Gulf states have largely been at loggerheads from 2017 to 2021 over a variety of issues until an agreement was signed on January 5 to reopen the borders they share.

There were some ugly accusations such as Qatar's alleged support for terrorism, meaning that wounds will take time to heal.

It seems more than fair to ask if there is genuine interest here from the Saudis in steering Newcastle towards the success primarily for the club and its fans, or if is this just a points-scoring exercise between super-rich Gulf rivals?

If things don't go well and the Saudis get bored and pull out, the Toon could be left in a worse place than the darkest of the Mike Ashley years. 

Also on rt.com Talk of the Toon: Ecstatic Newcastle fans take to the streets in celebration after Saudi takeover confirmed (VIDEO)

Newcastle as a place will not be the same

There is no city like the Toon and the Geordies are a unique people.

Located in a traditionally working class enclave with a strong history in shipbuilding and mining, Newcastle United are ferociously supported by the local community and for this have always been considered a big club despite not having won England's top tier league for nearly a century.

It will be interesting to see how the consortium connects with them, and if the locals in return welcome outsiders and glory-hunter new fans that will snap up tickets – especially if their prices increase. 

At the same time, perhaps the potential boom in tourism will be welcomed in an area that has often been economically deprived, and the club will gain new fans in parts of the world they never even considered before. 

Moral issues could question the cost of victory 

It would be irresponsible not to highlight some of the moral and ethical issues involved here, with the Crown Prince accused of flying in Saudi agents to his country's consular in Istanbul to kill and dismember the journalist Jamal Khashoggi almost three years ago to the day.

This puts fans in a quandary, and scenes of some of them celebrating wildly outside St James Park yesterday might not have sat well with those who have suffered under the Kingdom's regime, whether at home or in Yemen. 

But it is also important to highlight the conflict that some may be going through, as an interesting Twitter thread did yesterday. 

"A lot of Newcastle fans will be deeply concerned and troubled about the new owners, human rights abuses, the abhorrent treatment of journalists, workers, activists, etc. But they'll also be excited about Ashley going and what a potentially successful club could mean to the local economy, youngsters, [and] community," it began.

"It doesn't mean they care less about the moral implications of the takeover. They can still love their club and what it means to their city, its people, whilst at the same time condemning and being repulsed by a nation state using them for sportswashing purposes."

Such internal conflict could cause divisions among supporters and sully glory when it comes, while rival fanbases will never accept that it has come fairly. 

Also on rt.com ‘Say no to murder’: Activists and widow of slain journalist Khashoggi in desperate late bid to halt Saudi takeover of Newcastle

Anyone in the Premier League can now own a club, regardless of their murky background 

The English Premier League's Fit and Proper Person test for owners and directors is widely seen as a joke and not fit for purpose.

With the Saudi consortium allowed in, detractors argue it is quite clear that anyone can have a go at running a Premier League outfit providing they have lots of money, and who knows which sort of shady figures might be encouraged to throw their hats into the ring?

But should this come as a surprise when the likes of Paul Kagame are allowed to sponsor Arsenal with campaigns such as Visit Rwanda?

Financial Fair Play

In terms of farces, Financial Fair Play is not far behind the Fit and Proper Person test.

It has been argued time and again that PSG and Manchester City can pretty much do what they want, and when pulled up simply bring in their army of lawyers to make any potential scandal or punishment go away before carrying on regardless.

Will things be any different for Newcastle United? It seems doubtful, and other clubs will further cry in protest as per the supposed injustice of it all.

Also on rt.com Don’t expect Newcastle fans to rebel against the Saudis – ousting the old regime was more important for them than sportswashing

The European Super League could take off again

One of the main motives behind kicking off the failed breakaway project was said to be the discomfort that the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona feel at being unable to keep up with the financial might of Manchester City and PSG.

If Newcastle United become a force and sweep aside everyone in their wake, the Rebel Alliance could fire up again.

And who knows: if their clubs have been dominated by the Magpies, even the fans of English clubs who derailed the ESL the first time round might be swayed to back it.

By Tom Sanderson

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.