The OTHER club attracting interest from Saudi Arabia as Newcastle United takeover collapses

As the Newcastle United takeover saga finally comes to an end, there’s another European club which has attracted interest from Saudi Arabia – and it’s no less controversial.

Thursday, 30th July 2020, 4:04 pm
Olympique Marseille supporters light flares and wave flags to celebrate the club's 120th birthday last November.

The proposed £300million takeover of Newcastle, which is 80% funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, had been with the Premier League since April amid objections from beIN Sports and Amnesty International over TV piracy and the kingdom’s human rights record respectively.

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Newcastle United takeover is OFF

And United’s would-be owners have now sensationally pulled out of the deal to buy the club from Mike Ashley in a staggering blow to the Toon Army.

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Mourad Boudjellal.

The takeover, critically, had seen the club pitched into an ongoing geopolitical dispute between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which is home to beIN Sports, the Premier League’s rights-holder for the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region.

Meanwhile, in the south of France, another club is seemingly in Saudi sights – and Qatar, again, has been watching closely.

Businessman Mourad Boudjellal wants to lead a takeover of Olympique Marseille, and he is reportedly backed by Saudi investors.

However, Jacques-Henri Eyraud, the club’s president, is adamant that OM is “not for sale”. Speaking last month, Eyraud said: "Olympique Marseille is not for sale. I thank those who have shown a financial interest in OM, but we’re not interested in selling."

Olympique Marseille's Stade Velodrome.

Qatar, through Qatar Sports Investments, bought Paris Saint-Germain in 2011, and the move is seen as a threat to their footballing dominance – and political influence.

A Qatari “source” told Le Parisien this month: “We have information that Saudi Arabia is trying in every possible way to enter into football.”

A Saudi-backed move for OM would also encounter resistance over TV rights. BeIN Sports, which owns the Ligue 1 rights for the MENA region, earlier this month had had its licence to broadcast in Saudi Arabia permanently cancelled.

These rights, and the beoutQ pirate operation, were the subject of a World Trade Organisation (WTO) report last month. The report, which has been appealed by Saudi Arabia, drew a link between “individuals or entities” under the jurisdiction the kingdom and beoutQ.

According to Get French Football News, the Ligue de Football Professionnel, which made submissions to the WTO during its investigation, “frown upon the idea of Saudi Arabian investment into a major Ligue 1 club” because of the issue of piracy.

Qatar have their own reasons for wanting Mareille kept out of Saudi ownership.

Nicholas McGeehan, a Gulf researcher at the Human Rights Watch, said: “PSG is a jewel in the crown for Qatar, and the country uses the club in a very effective way on a political level.

"The last thing that they want is to see their biggest rival on the footballing scene bought by their biggest rival full stop. I understand why the Saudis want to get involved and why the Qataris are against it.”

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