Mike Ashley's concern at stalled Newcastle United takeover
The deal that took months of negotiations to finalise is taking even longer to get over the line at the Premier League.
And we just don’t know, right now, whether it’ll even get over the line as Steve Bruce prepares his players for the final game of the season on Sunday.
A decision is expected soon – Premier League chief executive Richard Masters said he hoped to conclude the process “shortly” at the end of last month – amid growing impatience on all sides.
Owner Mike Ashley, we know, had expected a swifter decision when he signed off a £300million sale to a Saudi Arabia-backed group in April.
The billionaire, at the time, was keen to move on and focus on the challenges facing his retail empire during the coronavirus lockdown. Ashley’s view, at the time, was that decisions about the future of the club were for the prospective new owners.
Yet more than three months later, key decisions are having to be taken under Ashley’s watch. He’s had to engage in short-term planning amid the uncertainty, and there’s concern at the apparent delay.
Budgets and transfer plans are being finalised in case the takeover is not approved, and Bruce has been working on the club’s pre-season schedule. Time is short.
There have also been contract renewals – Andy Carroll and Javier Manquillo have signed new deals – though Matty Longstaff’s future is still in the balance.
United also revealed this week that shirt sponsor FUN88 had signed a new “long-term” deal with the club.
A spokesperson for the sports betting and gaming firm told the Financial Times that the takeover was “not our business”. Gambling, however, is illegal in Saudi Arabia, and the kingdom is bankrolling 80% of the proposed deal through its Public Investment Fund.
The buyers, we understand, remain committed to the takeover as they wait for a decision.
Of course, it would most likely have been passed by now had it not been for the issue of TV piracy in Saudi Arabia, which has permanently revoked the broadcast licence of Qatar-based beIN Sports, who are the Premier League’s rights-holders for the Middle East North Africa region.
And it seems clear that there will need to be some kind of resolution to this complicated situation for the deal to be passed.
There has also been opposition from Amnesty International – and the fiancee of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi – over Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. A number of MPs have objected to the deal, though, significantly, the Government maintains that it’s a decision for the Premier League.
Foreign secretary Dominic Raab said last month: “We welcome engagement, investment into football in this country."
What is clear is that there will have to be a decision. The process can’t be stalled indefinitely, and there needs to be a conclusion. Soon.
Bruce, United’s head coach, has repeatedly called for “clarity”. Everyone needs clarity.
Henry Mauriss, an American investor, is reportedly readying a rival bid, but, for the moment, this is a distraction. A deal has been already agreed subject to Premier League approval – and everything, for now, hinges on that decision.