Newcastle United’s new owners have said they “absolutely” want to challenge for the Premier League title after a Saudi-led consortium completed its £300m takeover of the club.
The controversial deal had been delayed by almost 18 months due to a dispute between beIN Sports and the Saudis over illegal streaming.
Prior to the takeover being approved, Amnesty International told the Premier League that Saudi Arabia’s human rights record should be considered. They accused the Arab kingdom of trying to “sportswash their appalling human rights record with the glamour of top-fight football”.
However, such issues have been far from the minds of many Newcastle supporters who had been hoping for a takeover for years.
The Magpies currently sit second from bottom in the table and previous owner Mike Ashley was deeply unpopular among the fanbase.
After the deal was confirmed, Newcastle’s all-time top goalscorer Alan Shearer joined thousands of fans in celebrating as he claimed “we can dare to hope again”.
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), which now has an 80% stake in the club, has assets of £250bn – sparking hopes among supporters that the club will sign a high profile manager and some of the most talented players in the world.
Amanda Staveley, who now sits on the board as chief executive officer of PCP Capital Partners, told Sky Sports News that challenging for the Premier League title is “absolutely” part of the consortium’s long-term plan.
She said: “It’s an incredibly competitive league, Premier League football is the best in the world and Newcastle United is the best team in the world, and we want to see it get those trophies, obviously.
“Top of the league, in Europe. But to get trophies (takes) investment, patience, time, and we want everybody just to work with us to build the club into what it needs to be.”
Asked about signing high profile players, she continued: “We’re really excited about strengthening the squad, but we have to work within financial fair play, and we have to make sure that this is done over a longer term.
“But you can be assured that we want to invest at every level and we obviously want to get the best squad we possibly can.”
Asked about the future of Newcastle’s manager Steve Bruce, Ms Staveley continued: “We’re very supportive of Steve, we’ve spoken to him. We’re not going to speak about managers or what big signings we can make at the moment.”
Ms Staveley acknowledged she has concerns about how the club currently sits in the relegation places but said “with a fair wind and some hard work we’ll get there”.
The board member also said the matter is “closed” in relation to those who have concerns over the human rights record of Saudi Arabia. She added that PIF, the sovereign wealth fund of kingdom, is independent from the gulf nation and Saudi Arabia has no control over the club.
She said: “The consortium lead partner is PIF, it’s an autonomous, commercially-driven investment fund. It’s a great partner for Newcastle. I’m very honoured to work with them, they’ve been incredibly patient and fabulous partners to PCP.”
In a statement after the takeover, the football league said: “The Premier League, Newcastle United Football Club and St James Holdings Limited have today settled the dispute over the takeover of the club by the consortium of PIF, PCP Capital Partners and RB Sports & Media. Following the completion of the Premier League’s Owners’ and Directors’ Test, the club has been sold to the consortium with immediate effect.”
Newcastle also released a statement confirming that Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the governor of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) will act as the club’s non-executive chairman.
The statement added: “Today’s announcement is the conclusion of a thorough and detailed process that has allowed the Investment Group to arrive at a deal that benefits all stakeholders and will leave Newcastle United well-placed to pursue a clear, long-term strategy.”
The approval of the takeover means the end of Mike Ashley’s tenure as owner. The Sports Direct boss bought the Magpies in 2007, but has been criticised by supporters for a perceived failure to invest in the team.
Mr Ashley is separately engaged in arbitration proceedings with the Premier League over the takeover of the club.
The proceedings were engaged after Newcastle United waited months for the league to approve the deal and while the bid was never formally rejected, the Premier League was not satisfied over issues concerning ownership, amid a row over TV piracy.
On 6 October, beIN and the Saudi state resolved their issues, paving the way for the takeover to be agreed – more than a year after the group first expressed interest in buying Newcastle.
beIN had been opposed to the deal, saying the ban and piracy of its content in Saudia Arabia was damaging to sports rights holders.
The Qatari network had been unable to broadcast in Saudi Arabia for the last four-and-a-half years, as part of a diplomatic dispute, but the ban is set to come to an end.
The consortium previously withdrew after the Premier League identified the Saudi stake as a director with control over the club, which would have made it subject to the league’s owners’ and directors’ test as part of the takeover process.
The Competition Appeals Tribunal heard last week the league had been “improperly influenced” by beIN and rival Premier League clubs in its consideration of the takeover.
Analysis by Tom Parmenter, sports correspondent
The Mike Ashley era at Newcastle has done something quite profound to some of the most dedicated and fanatical supporters in the land.
It’s sucked the hope away.
The 14-years under Ashley’s questionable stewardship have ground them down, blunted expectations and taken the joy out of their football.
Some have simply walked away – numb at what’s happened both on and off the pitch. To many of them “Ashley Out” is now all that matters.
However many people line up to criticise the huge Saudi investment at St James Park – the fans have lived the last fourteen years and have got to a place where almost anyone with the money and ambition will do.
The dream on Tyneside is the kind of Middle Eastern funded revolution that Manchester City had from Abu Dhabi or that Paris St Germain has enjoyed from Qatar.
If the money flows in and is invested properly, not just in exciting new players, then anything could happen. And that’s what they’ve missed – the chance to really hope and dream again.
As the doomed European Super League project proved clubs belong to the fans. They will outlive any owners and right now – rightly or wrongly – most Newcastle fans believe they are getting their club back.
Expressing their concerns about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record before the deal, Amnesty International said in a statement: “Instead of allowing those implicated in serious human rights violations to walk into English football simply because they have deep pockets, we’ve urged the Premier League to change their owners’ and directors’ test to address human rights issues.
“Ever since this deal was first talked about we said it represented a clear attempt by the Saudi authorities to sportswash their appalling human rights record with the glamour of top-flight football.
“Under Mohammed Bin Salman, the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia remains dire – with government critics, women’s rights campaigners, Shia activists and human defenders still being harassed and jailed, often after blatantly unfair trials.
“The closed-door trial of Jamal Khashoggi’s alleged killers was widely perceived to be a part of a wider whitewash by the authorities, and Saudi Arabia is accused of a catalogue of crimes under international humanitarian law during the long conflict in Yemen.
“The phrase ‘human rights’ doesn’t even appear in the (Premier League’s) owners’ and directors’ test despite English football supposedly adhering to FIFA standards.
“As with Formula One, elite boxing, golf or tennis, an association with top-tier football is a very attractive means of rebranding a country or person with a tarnished reputation. The Premier League needs to better understand the dynamic of sportswashing and tighten its ownership rules.”