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The man who is set to take over Newcastle United

He is perhaps the most important person in Saudi Arabia outside of royalty. But as a Harvard graduate without a wealthy background, Yasir al-Rumayyan may not be what onlookers would expect from the head of the sovereign wealth fund, writes Kim Sengupta

Tuesday 19 May 2020 13:38 BST
Unlike other interested parties, little has been publicised about Yasir al-Rumayyan
Unlike other interested parties, little has been publicised about Yasir al-Rumayyan (EPA-EFE)

The coronavirus pandemic has been a seismic shock to the world of professional football. The effect has been the most dramatic in Europe where the astonishing riches in the upper echelon of the game suddenly look under great threat. But behind the dire predictions of clubs going bankrupt, the disputes over how and when to kick off matches once again, and the rancour over players being asked to take pay cuts, one club is looking forward to an injection of money which promises to take it back to the glory days of the distant past.

Newcastle United, which has been enmeshed in accusations and recriminations between fans and its owner of 13 years, Mike Ashley, is in the process of being acquired by a company backed by the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia, a body chaired by Yasir al-Rumayyan. It comes when Ashley, the owner of Sports Direct and House of Fraser, is reported to have lost an estimated £800m in financial fractures caused by Covid-19. The offer on the table for Newcastle is said to be £300m. This is not a huge strain on the finances of the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF), which is valued at $320bn (£260bn) with a declared intention of raising this to $400bn by this year.

The names of a number of people in the public eye, to a greater or lesser degree, have been linked in the media to the takeover, codenamed Project Zebra, after Newcastle’s black and white strip, by the consortium. Use of the club’s nickname, the Magpies, was apparently viewed as a giveaway in the commercially sensitive early days of the negotiations.

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