The £305million Saudi takeover of Newcastle United has finally been concluded and it promises to have seismic consequences on Tyneside and far beyond.
Mike Ashley’s 14-year ownership of the St James’ Park club will now draw to a close as the Premier League officially sign off the deal, with the new owners eager to get straight down to work.
But how has the takeover come about, why did it take so long to complete and what are the implications for everyone involved? Sportsmail answers all your questions.
The takeover of Newcastle United by the Saudi Public Investment Fund, led by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, has finally been completed
Mike Ashley’s (left) 14-year reign as owner of Newcastle United has come to a close
What changed in order for the takeover to be completed now?
The buy-out – led by Saudi’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) and involving British financier Amanda Staveley and British property investors Simon and David Reuben – stalled in the summer of 2020.
That was because the consortium were unable to prove there was separation between themselves and the Saudi state, headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
But now the Premier League has received assurances the state will not be directly involved in the running of Newcastle, the deal can be given the green light.
The Premier League’s chief objection to the involvement of the Saudi state was their belief they have been behind the piracy of broadcast coverage of their games over several years.
How has the piracy issue been resolved?
Saudi Arabia has settled its dispute with the Qatar-based broadcaster beIN Sports, removing the final obstacle to the Newcastle deal going through.
BeIN Sports is the Premier League’s official broadcaster throughout the Middle East but their channels have been banned in Saudi Arabia for four years, with games instead shown illegally on pirate channels.
The Saudi state was believed to be behind the piracy of beIN Sport channels in the country
The Premier League could hardly approve a takeover of one of their clubs by investors from a country where they believe the state was behind the piracy of their product.
The black-out in Saudi Arabia was a huge issue for the Qatari broadcaster who were losing out in their biggest market in the region and it formed part of a wider political dispute between the two countries.
However now Saudi Arabia is understood to have told beIN Sports it wants to settle the legal cases concerning the piracy – including an arbitration worth $1billion (about £737million) – and the broadcaster’s objections made to the Premier League have been dropped.
The Saudi government has promised to close pirate websites operating in the country having been presented with a list of them by beIN.
A source told Sportsmail: ‘If all of this had been done 18 months ago, the takeover would have been signed off already.
‘The Premier League could not approve a takeover whereby one of its member clubs would be owned by a state it believed to be guilty of piracy against the league and one of its broadcast partners.
‘The League has tried to sue the Saudi state nine times in relation to piracy.’
The resolution of the piracy issue plus assurances that the Saudi state would not be directly involved in running Newcastle United saw the Premier League give the green light
But is it really possible to separate the Saudi state from the Newcastle deal?
This is the big question. After all the PIF, which is expected to take a majority 80 per cent stake in Newcastle, is a sovereign wealth fund overseen by crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The Saudi media minister, Majed al-Qasabi, also sits on the PIF board and he was involved in resolving the piracy issue.
We know that Bin Salman lobbied British Prime Minister Boris Johnson last year after objections were raised – telling him ‘we expect the English Premier League to reconsider and correct its wrong conclusion’ – and warned Anglo-Saudi relations could be damaged if they didn’t.
So despite written assurances sent to the Premier League that the state won’t be directly involved, it’s difficult to see how they won’t influence things.
Buying Newcastle could be regarded as part of Bin Salman’s Vision 2030, a programme which is designed to refocus the Saudi economy towards tourism and entertainment, deflecting focus on their human rights record.
Crown Prince Bin Salman pictured with Boris Johnson – Bin Salman warned Johnson that Anglo-Saudi relations could be affected if the Premier League didn’t approve the takeover
The takeover won’t go down well with human rights campaigners?
Absolutely not and the Premier League can expect some fierce criticism for allowing the takeover to go through.
Intelligence services in the United States have named Bin Salman as signing off on the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
Amnesty International has condemned the Saudi attempts at ‘sportswashing’ or efforts to divert attention from humans rights violations by staging sports events such as boxing or Formula One in the country.
In a statement released to PA Media on Thursday, Amnesty said: ‘Ever since this deal was first talked about we said it represented a clear attempt by the Saudi authorities to sports wash their appalling human rights record with the glamour of top-flight football.
‘Saudi ownership of St James’ Park was always as much about image management for Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and his government as it was about football.
Intelligence services in the United States have named Bin Salman as signing off on the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi (pictured) in 2018
‘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 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.’
Who else will take a stake in the club?
Staveley and her firm, PCP Capital, have been involved in trying to buy Newcastle for four years.
The London based businesswoman, 48, will take a 10 per cent stake and is expected to have a role on the club’s board.
The Reuben brothers, who made their fortune in property development and a net worth of £16bn, will take the other 10 per cent.
They already have property interests in the north-east, including in Newcastle Racecourse.
Amanda Staveley and her PCP Capital firm will take a 10 per cent stake in Newcastle United
So Newcastle can expect a serious cash injection?
In theory, Newcastle are now among the wealthiest football clubs in the world and will enjoy similar spending power to Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain, owned by Abu Dhabi and Qatar respectively.
The Saudi PIF already has $400bn (£295bn) in assets and plans to increase this to over $1trillion by 2025.
We can be assured the Saudis will want to show they can compete with Abu Dhabi and Qatar within the football world.
Put it this way, you’d expect there will be a bit of spare cash available if Newcastle needed a new right-back…
We can expect considerable investment in the Newcastle squad to restore the glory days
What about Steve Bruce’s prospects?
Newcastle have failed to win any of their opening seven Premier League games this season and sit second bottom, so Bruce finds himself under serious pressure anyway.
A survey by the Newcastle United Supporters Trust revealed this week that 94 per cent of its members want Bruce to resign and he’s never been very popular among the fanbase.
So a change of manager is highly likely. Let’s not forget PIF wanted to appoint Mauricio Pochettino as Newcastle’s boss last year before the takeover stalled.
Pochettino has since gone to PSG but a change in manager in the near future is looking likely.
The prospects don’t look good for manager Steve Bruce, who is under pressure anyway
Is it farewell to Mike Ashley then?
Yes, and don’t expect banners of appreciation and gratitude from the Newcastle fans at their next home match.
Ashley’s 14-year tenure as owner has seen the club burn through 10 managers, twice suffer relegation into the Championship and fail to win a single trophy.
Their last three finishes in the Premier League have been 13th, 13th and 12th with the general consensus that a club which attracts crowds of over 50,000 and a fiercely loyal away following should be doing better than looking over their shoulder at the relegation places year-in, year-out.
Ashley has been trying to sell the club for four years and he opened arbitration proceedings against the Premier League last year in a bid to revive the takeover with talks continuing behind the scenes.
The Sports Direct owner will be pleased to finally conclude the sale and Newcastle’s fans will be thrilled to see the back of him.
Mike Ashley will step away from Newcastle after 14 years of ownership ups and downs
So the fans will have a spring in their step today?
It will feel like Christmas has come early for the long-suffering Newcastle fans.
There has long been animosity towards Ashley and Bruce and now both are set to be on their way. Investment is on the way that should drastically improve the squad and lift them up the table.
Given time, the hope will be that Newcastle can compete to qualify for Europe, win cup competitions and even push the firmly established elite clubs at the top of the Premier League.
Supporters were certainly jubilant on social media as the deal drew closer to completion, allowing themselves to dream of glory again.
On the downside, there are the moral concerns that have already been mentioned.
Also, any spending is likely to be gradual with the immediate focus on improving the club’s infrastructure rather than splashing out on world class stars.
Newcastle fans are jubilant at the news of the Saudi takeover with many predicting success
The hashtags #NUFCtakeover and #cans trended on Twitter as the takeover neared
What is the make-up of Premier League club owners now?
With Ashley’s departure, there are only seven British-owned or part-owned clubs left in the Premier League.
They are Brentford, Brighton, Crystal Palace, Everton, Norwich, Tottenham and West Ham.
The league will now have owners from the United States, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Russia, Egypt, Iran, Thailand, Italy, China and Switzerland.