A long, difficult winter looms for Newcastle United. The team have taken just one point from their first three Premier League games, suggesting that it will be another campaign when the fear of relegation haunts St James’ Park. To make things worse, the possibility of a takeover seems more remote than at any time in the past two years.
The mood on Tyneside was illustrated when supporters booed Steve Bruce, the manager, during Newcastle’s 2-2 draw with Southampton last Saturday. The Geordie crowd had reason to be positive when Allan Saint-Maximin put the home side ahead in stoppage time, but Bruce’s team could not hold on to the lead.
Gloomy noises, too, are coming from the Amanda Staveley-led and Saudi Arabian-backed consortium that reached an agreement to purchase the club last year. They took their £300million offer off the table last summer when the Premier League asked for more information about the potential new owners. Officially, the group – comprised of the Gulf kingdom’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners and the Reuben brothers – say they have walked away from the deal. In private they insist that they are as eager as ever to complete the transaction. The appetite of the Saudis, who planned to finance 80 per cent of the cost, remains “undimmed”, according to a source close to the situation. Optimism that the buyout will happen is beginning to fade, however.
In July, Mike Ashley’s arbitration case against the Premier League was postponed until next year because of issues relating to the disclosure of evidence. The Newcastle owner is reviled by the fans and desperate to unload the club, but the slow pace of the case has raised doubts among the would-be buyers. They can only wait as the arbitration process takes place between Ashley and the league. The next phase will be at an unspecified point next year.
Those close to the situation say that the Saudis – who have declined to comment – will not look elsewhere. The belief in Riyadh is that the Premier League is the best place to invest in football and they would face similar roadblocks if they switched attention to another club. The only way PIF can avoid embarrassment is by buying Newcastle or dropping the idea of owning a team.
Meanwhile, St James’ Park remains in limbo. Ashley’s mindset has always been opaque but he was never going to authorise a spending spree in the transfer window to alleviate a season of struggle. The consortium’s advisors on the game believe that the squad is “not bad enough” to go down. While the analysts involved are not impressed by Newcastle’s defence or midfield, they consider that the attack will score goals. Callum Wilson, Miguel Almiron and Saint-Maximin should have enough firepower to ensure a team that finished 12th last season and 13th the year before will not be sucked into the bottom three.
Ashley sanctioned paying Arsenal £26.5million to convert Joe Willock’s loan spell into a permanent move, and, although Bruce was unable to bring Hamza Choudhury to the northeast on loan, Newcastle have had far worse windows. The troubled financial climate and the flat transfer market might have worked in Bruce’s favour because in different economic circumstances rivals may have tried to tempt the team’s better players away from the club.
There is no clear vision of what Newcastle’s future will look like heading towards 2022. The questions merely multiply as the weeks pass. There is little or no chance of Bruce being replaced or resigning, even if things go wrong and the temper of the Gallowgate becomes more toxic. Until there is some clarity, negativity will continue to swirl about the banks of the Tyne.
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