Figures close to the Newcastle United takeover saga are still convinced that the Amanda Staveley-fronted and Saudi Arabian-backed bid will succeed but have largely given up hope of taking the reins at St James’ Park before the beginning of the season. Attention has switched to the closing of the transfer window on 31 August.
The Premier League’s arbitration panel is scheduled to take place this month but the ruling body’s proceedings are conducted in private. The news that the hearing was due in July only slipped out when the president of the Competitions Appeal Tribunal, which is conducting a separate action involving the proposed buyout, revealed the information last month.
After assessing the evidence the members of the arbitration panel can hand down their verdict quickly. In expedited arbitration – as in this case – the award can be written and issued in just two weeks. There are concerns within the Staveley camp that the judgement will take longer and even if the takeover is approved the new owners will have little or no time to add to the squad to influence the new season.
Staveley took to the airwaves on Friday and insisted on national radio that the appetite for the buyout is as strong as ever. Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) put up 80 per cent of the original £300 million bid with Staveley’s own company and the Reuben brothers each providing 10 per cent of the cash. The businesswoman said: “We are all still there, and are all still passionate about Newcastle. All consortium members are.”
A number of the club’s fans travelled to London to protest in Parliament Square and outside the Premier League’s headquarters demanding that the process be conducted in the open. Some held up signs that said: “Public arbitration for our club.”
Representatives of the potential buyers and those on the selling side maintain that they were initially told that there were “no red flags” about the proposed deal. That changed in June last year, when the Premier League asked for further information about Saudi involvement. At that point the consortium withdrew from the transaction but remained in the background waiting for Ashely to take legal action.
Frustration is growing at the length of time it is taking to complete the arbitration. Richard Masters, the league’s chief executive, said in January that the dispute would be solved in “a timely manner.” Staveley was bullish then that the new owners would be in place before the coming season.
That confidence has all but evaporated. “The uncertainty is affecting how the club is operating,” a source close to the situation said. “The delay is damaging to everyone around Newcastle. Ashley does not want to spend money on players if he is not going to be the owner. He will argue that this is damaging his business.”
The main sticking point about Saudi involvement in English football was the hacking of BeIn Sport, the Premier League’s broadcast partner in the Gulf, by Saudi pirate TV stations. Qatar-based BeIn believed that the hijacking of their channels could not have been achieved without state support. Saudi Arabia and its allies imposed a three-year blockade on Qatar that ended in December. The détente in the region is delicate but the disruption of BeIn’s signals has ended.
Those in favour of the takeover believe there are other elements at play, too. They contend that some top-flight clubs are keen to block PIF’s entry into the English game for fear that Newcastle would spend their way to success in the style of Chelsea and Manchester City. Staveley denies that, saying that PIF – which is reportedly in the process of taking a £550 million stake in Formula One’s McLaren – intend for St James’ Park to be run as a profitable business and within the club’s means.
“The deal was supposed to be completed more than a year ago when contracts were exchanged,” the source said. “Everything that has happened since has been anti-competitive.”
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