Steve Bruce now has Newcastle United takeover role to play following CAT hearing
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The focus, for once, was not on Newcastle United’s under-pressure head coach yesterday.
Instead, it was on a live-streamed Competition Appeal Tribunal hearing, which was watched by thousands of fans.
Fans watched as QCs representing Mike Ashley’s St James Holdings, and the Premier League, and set out why an anti-competition case arising out of last year’s unapproved takeover saga should, and should not, go ahead.
The hearing, which lasted all day, was not particularly entertaining, but it was revealing.
A proposed January 3 start date for the all-important takeover arbitration hearing was revealed, and Adam Lewis QC, representing the Premier League, insisted that the proposed deal, which would see Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) take an 80% stake, would go ahead if it could be proved that the Gulf kingdom would not be a director of the club.
The separation between the Saudi state and PIF, it’s sovereign wealth fund, remains the main issue.
Lewis also claimed it was an “abuse of process” to pursue a CAT case alongside arbitration.
Ashley’s QC, Daniel Jowell, said the CAT claim was “quite different”. Jowell also highlighted “lobbying” against the proposed deal by broadcaster beIN Sports and opposition from other, unnamed, clubs.
It was also claimed that the Premier League had “threatened” to expel the club at one point.
Jowell added: "If the Premier League came to senses and reversed its decision, we hope (the buyers) might be prepared to go forward on similar terms.”
Nick De Marco QC, representing the club in arbitration, only spoke to reiterate the club’s position on transparency. Part of the hearing was held in private following a request from the Premier League.
De Marco appropriately wore a black and white tie for the hearing.
The three-man panel are now considering the submissions, and the focus now returns to events on the field ahead of Saturday’s game against Wolverhampton Wanderers at Molineux.
Ashley hopes to resurrect the sale, but, clearly the deal agreed last year was for a Premier League club. So just where in the table will Newcastle be on January 3?
The club is winless, and 17th in the division, following the first six games.
If arbitration does go in Ashley's favour – that’s still a big “if”, of course – then a sale will be back on, but PIF will not want to pay £300million for a club heading for the Championship.
It’s still early days – the club had a worse start in the 2018/19 season, and finished 13th – but there are already warning signs on the pitch.
There have been “we want Brucie out” chants in recent weeks, and though the club’s head coach, on a rolling contract and secure in his position for now, has repeatedly insisted that he will not walk away.
Bruce has been heartened by recent performances, though many fans are unconvinced.
That said, the players were applauded off the field after last weekend’s 1-1 draw against Watford.
The QCs representing the club and St James Holdings have their jobs to do off the field as they seek legal victories, but for them to ultimately succeed and resurrect a sale, the players must find a way to win on the pitch.