We didn’t need the Saudi Arabian-backed takeover of Newcastle United to tell us English football is obsessed with money. But now it is clear than ever just how little it cares about anything else.
Over the 18 months since the prospective deal for Amanda Staveley’s consortium — 80% financed by the Saudi Public Investment Fund — to buy Newcastle United was agreed, debates rumbled on and it was delayed to the point many people thought it would never happen.
That will have pleased many people both inside and out of football; Saudi Arabia’s human rights record is abysmal, with atrocities shocking the world over. Amnesty International and Hatice Cengiz, fiancée of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was widely believed to have been murdered on the order of Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and chairman of PIF, both pleaded with the Premier League to take human rights into account when judging the merits of the Newcastle United takeover but they didn’t. For all the reasons it was delayed, it never entered the conversation
In the end, it was all about piracy of beINSPORT’s coverage of the league, which had been going on for nearly five years. Once that stopped, it was literally a matter of days until the consortium had the keys to St James’ Park. If the Premier League themselves can wave this through despite everything, Newcastle fans shouldn’t become moral arbiters, much less be criticised for getting excited about a future where the drab, cold, lifeless Mike Ashley era is likely to be replaced by European nights and, something not seen since the 1960s, major trophies.
But they cannot run before learning to walk. A ‘new era’ doesn’t really do the past week justice, it has seen a new world ushered in overnight. Nobody is more aware of this than Staveley and the other faces of the consortium, her husband Mehrdad Ghodoussi and Jamie Reuben, son of David and nephew of Simon, the brothers who, like Staveley and Ghodoussi, have a 10% stake in the club.
The process will be gradual — January is their first opportunity to strengthen a squad currently winless in their first eight games and sat in 19th. Now is not the time to be playing fantasy football, no matter how much the gossip columns will be buzzing with speculation.
Many of their plans for Newcastle United when they agreed the takeover deal in April 2020 have now gone up in smoke, simply because time waits for nobody. Chief among them was to reinstate Rafael Benitez as manager; he was the man who greeted Staveley on her first visit to Newcastle in 2017 and was integral in early negotiations which preceded the involvement of PIF.
Benitez is now at Everton having left Newcastle in 2019, and though Steve Bruce is expected to be sacked ahead of the first game of the new dawn at home to Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, they’ve had to go back to the drawing board to source a replacement and there is no word on who that could be, while a sporting director is also likely to arrive
Ghodoussi repeated the mantra ‘slow and steady’ to gathered fans when they arrived at a hotel on the night they took over last week. Their treatment of Bruce has been proper and correct, although his future is an open secret. They held a meeting with him for an hour at the training ground on Monday and at the time of writing on Tuesday, he remains in place. They picked his brain and, most likely, thanked him for keeping the club up, which made the entire process of them coming in much smoother.
Eventually, when changes do come in, Staveley would do well to learn from the mistakes of previous ownerships. Both Ashley, and the shareholders eventually fronted by Freddy Shepherd before him, brought chaos on themselves in different ways.
It has been well documented with Ashley. After his own takeover of Newcastle United, he drank pints with fans, wore his replica shirt in the away end and looked like he wanted a good time. However, upon realising the state of the clubs finances, which he didn’t initially thanks to a lack of due diligence, he set off on an age of austerity. Meanwhile, he was proven in court to have lied to manager Kevin Keegan, his first recruit in 2008, and then treated Alan Shearer poorly with relegation to the Championship confirmed a year later.
Mostly, Ashley’s downfall was surrounding himself with the wrong people and — Benitez aside — not making progressive appointments who could implement the ideas he purported to have properly. The basic premise of uncovering players from different markets under the age of 24 and selling them on for profit is a good one but there was never anybody to oversee a coherent strategy or style — like at Leicester City, a club who succeeded with a similar model. It became all about the profit and never growing the club simultaneously, while the lack of initial investment reduced the quality of the players. It was a vicious cycle.
Players who did join were welcome to use Newcastle as a stepping stone and, just like in the latter days under Shepherd, when the club used money it didn’t have to make vanity signings like Patrick Kluivert and Michael Owen, it meant the character in the squad was nonexistent, and it ultimately proved costly with a second relegation.
Although Newcastle are going to be working in a different stratosphere from now on, the building process, especially with relegation still a very active threat, needs the right people in place. No vanity, no extravagance and no negligence. That should be in their minds as links with the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Mauro Icardi circulate.
Staveley has said the right things so far and there are plenty of easy wins for her to score. There is intrigue surrounding where Newcastle United go next following their takeover and rightly so. Things will only get louder at a club more bombastic than most; stability can be achieved on the pitch, but in a sense it has been sacrificed off it. That is something to get used to, but in terms of the football, the blueprints for what not to do are not too hard to find.
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