'Do NOT rule out this out at Newcastle United': Takeover verdict, Premier League scrutiny and restarting football
However, the most pressing footballing issue on Tyneside right now is the proposed takeover of the club.
Financier Amanda Staveley, backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and the billionaire property investors David and Simon Reuben, agreed a £300million deal for the club and lodged it with the Premier League last month.
Staveley and her backers are still waiting on Premier League approval amid objections over the illegal streaming of top-flight games in Saudi Arabia and the country’s human rights record.
Importantly, the Government’s neutral position on the deal has not changed, despite calls for parliamentary scrutiny over the issue of TV piracy in Saudi Arabia.
Culture secretary Dowden said: “The first thing is for the Premier League to conduct a fit-and-proper-person test. They do that for anyone looking to take over clubs in the Premier League.
“It’s right that we allow the Premier League to conduct that. It is for the Premier League to make that assessment.”
Our writers Miles Starforth and Liam Kennedy go through the big issues at St James’s Park in our regular Q&A feature.
Will the takeover get the green light?
MS: “There’ confidence on both sides of the deal that it will get done. Is that misplaced? We just don’t know yet, though, importantly, the Government’s position has not changed in the face of calls for parliamentary scrutiny of the Saudi piracy claims.
“Obviously, the Premier League is preoccupied with restarting next month, and presumably that will have had an impact on the process as well as the piracy claims from beIN Sports.”
LK: "I've heard nothing from people who should know that suggests it will not get the Premier League green light. It is taking time, yes. But come on. The Premier League have A LOT on their plate at present.
“There have been piracy issues in the process, but the geopolitics of the situation, and the Arab Cold War with the Saudis on one side and Qatar firmly on the other, cannot be ruled out when it comes to certain sources of criticism that has come the bid's way."
What are the motives of those in line to take the helm at St James's Park?
MS: “Everything we’ve heard so far suggests that the would-be owners aren’t in it for the short term. They’re longer-term investors. They want to rebuild the club over a number of years. Investment is needed on and off the pitch, and they know that.”
LK: "Whatever they may be saying, the Saudis are not coming into football to mess around. They will want to make an impact, especially how hard they've had to fight to get this close to completion.
“Coronavirus restrictions will limit the impact they can make early doors – but don't rule out this being used as an opportunity to make certain behind-the-scenes, long overdue improvements at United."
What does the future realistically hold for Steve Bruce?
MS: “Nothing will change this season, assuming the takeover is given the go-ahead. Beyond that, he faces a very uncertain future given the calibre of manager, notably Mauricio Pochettino and Max Allegri, available ahead of next season.”
LK: "Bruce was not the choice of any Newcastle fans – and, with that in mind, he is unlikely to be the choice of new owners either. An easy early win for the incoming owners would be to move Bruce on, politely, and bring their own man in, as is always the way when takeovers play out. Bruce has been OK at United.
“He did well in difficult circumstances, but I think it is a little far-fetched to say he has done a 'good job'."
Do you think football will return to the Premier League this summer, like it has the Bundesliga?
MS: “Only time will tell. The Premier League, suspended since March due to the coronavirus pandemic, will be able to learn lessons from the Bundesliga, which successfully started this weekend. Obviously, Germany hasn’t been as badly hit as the UK, but if a summer restart is possible there, then it should also be possible a month later in England.”
LK: "I genuinely think last weekend can be used as a yardstick for the Premier League. Germany have not had the virus as bad as us but with proper planning and regular testing I do not see why football should not return.
“Life has to go back to some form of normality at some point – and this seems like a sensible step in the right direction."
When do you think fans will be allowed back into football stadiums?
MS: “Right now, it’s hard to see fans returning to stadiums this year. Next season, undoubtedly, will be affected, and it could be next year before the turnstiles are opened at St James’s Park.”
LK: "Reduced crowds may be a way forward with social distancing in place but realistically how would you choose who gets in and who doesn't? This subject has no definitive answer.
“I think it could be a very long time before we are back to normal in this sense. Could 2020/21 be impacted? Yes, probably."