The Newcastle United takeover saga has taken another turn with Richard Masters response to Chi Onwurah reigniting the controversy. The chief executive of the Premier League replied to a letter from the MP for Newcastle Central that asked for clarity over why the £300million deal collapsed last month.
A source close to the Amanda Staveley-led consortium reacted with scorn to the Premier League’s first public pronouncement on the issue, saying that “it does not change anything.” However, the letter will likely cause fury among fans and politicians. Supporters on Tyneside are desperate to see the club taken out of the hands of Mike Ashley and civic leaders believe a change of ownership would lead to investment in the area by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), who put up 80 per cent of the cash for the bid.
The letter supplies more questions than answers and does not provide the clarity that Onwurah demanded. It says that the Premier League “made a clear determination as to which entities it believed would have control over the club” and asked for more information about one of the participants in the transaction. Masters also says that the ruling body offered an “independent arbitral tribunal” if the consortium disagreed with the Premier League board’s request for more particulars.
The big sticking point in the takeover is the role of the Saudi government in the future of Newcastle. The consortium say that it has been made clear that PIF is an independent entity that operates with autonomy from the state. The Premier League board have not been satisfied by the explanation.
The ruling body and some of the clubs are concerned about the political situation in the Gulf, particularly in respect to beIn Sports, the Premier League’s broadcast partner in the region. BeIn’s telecasts have been pirated by a Saudi-based operation and the Qatari company has been denied a licence to conduct business in the kingdom. Qatar is being blockaded by a Saudi-led coalition. Football is being used as a tool in this regional cold war.
Sources close to the Staveley bid have been highly critical of the Premier League. They filed the paperwork for the owners and directors test in April and believe it was informally indicated to them that “everything was fine.” Project Restart was the priority and they expected the takeover to be waved through as soon as competition resumed.
In June the sources claim the mood changed and Masters confirms this. Instead of rubber-stamping the deal, the Premier League began asking more questions.
Masters’ letter indicates that the potential buyers – the Reuben Brothers and Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners each planned to provide 10 per cent of the price to add to the PIF’s majority share – failed to reply to specific queries before withdrawing from the deal. The chief executive also denied that any clubs influenced proceedings although at least two are known to be opposed to the takeover.
The consortium’s main complaint is that no decision was ever communicated to them that they had failed the fit and proper test. Masters writes that the buying group were offered the “ability to have the matter determined by an independent arbitral tribunal if it wished to challenge the conclusion of the board.” The source said “they wanted to arbitrate before they gave a ruling. The buyers deserved a decision first. Normally you would go to arbitration after failing the test.”
The latest twist in proceedings confirms that the issue will not go away. The consortium remains eager to pursue the buyout and Ashley is keen to complete the sale. The Saudi takeover of Newcastle is unlikely to be over any time soon.