Expert reveals inside story of Saudi ambitions and Amanda Staveley-backed Newcastle United takeover bid

Newcastle United's proposed takeover by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, Amanda Staveley and the Reuben Brothers has been cast into doubt.

Sunday, 9th February 2020, 4:13 pm
Updated Sunday, 9th February 2020, 4:13 pm

Saudi Arabian sports business expert, Professor Simon Chadwick, has revealed that the PIF-backed bid does not make 'sense' and would mark a massive shift in governmental policy and direction - one he very much doubts has taken place.

Fresh from his trip to Riyadh, and visits to the state's General Sports Authority, Chadwick, a lecturer in sports enterprise at Salford University, exclusively told the Gazette: "I am led to believe there is considerably less substance to this story than has been made out. And it seems like most of the noise is not coming from the club, or Mike Ashley.

"There is absolutely nothing at all with regards Saudi political policy to suggest there is any intention to buy a football club.

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DIC negotiator Amanda Staveley takes her seat before Liverpool took on Chelsea in their UEFA Champions League semi-final football match against Liverpool at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England, April 22, 2008. The game finished 1-1. AFP PHOTO/PAUL ELLIS (Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

"They want to invest in infrastructure, staging events and technological advances within Saudi, not have a football club in another country the people can be proud of."

Of the proposed £340million deal, Chadwick continued: "Last week I was in the sports ministry in Riyadh. I spoke to people in that building, as well as people who work in the same office block as PIF. And very few people had heard anything about this.

"The most common responses I got when talking about investing in Newcastle United was 'I know nothing about it' or 'if we did invest, it would surely be in Manchester United'."

The Gazette understands work to progress the proposed takeover of Newcastle United IS ongoing.

But a deal is nowhere near as well on as suggested when news of an 'agreement' broke a fortnight ago.

Last week the Gazette had it confirmed Reuben Brothers - ran by Simon and David Reuben - are on board with the bid.

And with Staveley's camp briefing on her involvement, it's understood work is continuing on a deal in law offices in the Gulf.

Well-placed sources in the Middle East, however, stress the takeover bid is not anywhere near as well progressed as originally claimed.

Question marks about the legitimacy and necessity of Amanda Staveley in any proposed takeover have also been raised, as well as the motives of those involved.

Those claims are refuted by Staveley's camp, with the Ripon-born financier's people claiming this move is the 'real deal'.

Chadwick concurs on this view of Staveley's involvement.

"Speaking to people in the region, her track record is not the best," he said of Staveley, who played a minor part in Sheikh Mansour's takeover of Manchester City.

"She is not known as this financial fixer extraordinaire in the Middle East. She is not known as someone who gets deals done."

Chadwick, of course, is not ruling out a takeover happening, he just seriously doubts the cash to fund it would come from the Public Investment Fund cash pot.

"It would take a massive shift in recent national policy for the Saudi sovereign wealth fund to invest in an English football club," said Chadwick.

"The idea is to get the clubs own football teams into the top 30 in the world, not boost another country's asset.

"This is not a Qatar where football is not really a part of the culture, this is a country with some of the biggest clubs in the Middle East with big crowds and a fanbase.

"You have a team in Al-Hilal, who are basically the Liverpool of this part of the world, they won the equivalent of the Champions League. The idea is to boost teams like that, rather than invest elsewhere.

"All football clubs in Saudi are state owned - and they want all that to change. The plan is to privatise these clubs and improve them with the long-term view of becoming world-beaters."

Reports on Friday, emanating from respected North American publication Bloomberg, suggested a long-time friend of Kim Kardashian West, Carla DiBella is advising the Saudis on their Newcastle deal.

This kind of circus is not the type of thing those in the halls of power in the kingdom are looking to court.

They see themselves as innovators, not followers. And that's the exact reason they are highly unlikely to follow the Qatar or Abu Dhabi model.

"There is a sense in the Arab world that the PSG and Man City projects have proven to be a massive waste of money," said Chadwick.

"The Qataris bought Neymar, spent hundreds of millions and now find themselves with a player who wants to leave and they will have to buy the 'next Neymar'.

"With the Saudis they want to go down a different route. You have seen that with the e-sports, combat sports, Dakar rally and the bid to host the 2027 AFC Asian Cup.

"The Saudis want to be different, distinct. Not just follow the model set by other nations around them."

Their recent venture in to staging world championship heavyweight boxing is a signal of their real intent.

Anthony Joshua fought Andy Ruiz Jnr in Ad Diriyah, on the outskirts of capital city Riyadh in December, bringing the eyes of the sporting world on to the kingdom.

"This is all about the development of Saudi as a nation - this is not about building up anywhere else. That was why the fight had to be in Riyadh - it was for the people of the nation," said Chadwick.

"Boxing, as a sport, only has one hub - Las Vegas. Saudi Arabia sees an avenue to explore in combat sports. They want to become a boxing hub. They feel they are well-positioned in a world sense geographically.

"If they wanted to buy out the MGM Grand for the night, fill it with Saudi flags and have the Crown Prince with the belts, they've got the money to do that 10 times over.

It's not about that for them.

"They are keen to cleverly position themselves."

And that's why, despite all of the positive noises in the British and American press, doubts remain about this bid's legitimacy in Middle Eastern intelligentsia.