By Mukwuzi Joseph
English Premier League football club Newcastle United have been taken over by a Saudi Arabian-backed consortium, the league said, after a protracted takeover and legal fight involving concerns about piracy and rights abuses in the kingdom.
“The Premier League, Newcastle United Football Club and St James Holdings Limited have today settled the dispute over the takeover of the club by the consortium of PIF, PCP Capital Partners and RB Sports & Media,” the Premier League said in a statement on Thursday.
“Following the completion of the Premier League’s owners’ and directors’ Test, the club has been sold to the consortium with immediate effect.”
The 300-million-pound ($409m) takeover by the Saudi Public Investment Fund collapsed last year over concerns about how much control the kingdom’s leadership would have in the running of Newcastle amid concerns about Saudi human rights abuses and the pirating of sports rights.
Amnesty International has warned that the takeover represents “sportswashing” of the Gulf kingdom’s human rights record.
PIF has had to offer assurances to the Premier League that its chairman, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and in turn the state will not have any control of the running of Newcastle.
“We are extremely proud to become the new owners of Newcastle United, one of the most famous clubs in English football,” PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan said.
“We thank the Newcastle fans for their tremendously loyal support over the years and we are excited to work together with them.”
The PIF will be the majority partner alongside wealthy British-based Reuben brothers and financier Amanda Staveley.
The takeover ends the 14-year ownership by British retail tycoon Mike Ashley, who has been widely viewed as a figure of scorn in the one-club city, whose St James’ Park stadium is affectionately dubbed “the cathedral on the hill”.
His ownership has been marked by chronic underinvestment in the playing squad, his use of Newcastle as a vehicle to promote his business interests, and a general lack of ambition despite the club attracting regular home crowds of more than 50,000.
Newcastle has not won a major trophy since the 1955 FA Cup and its last league title was in 1927.
The northeast English club will be seeking a transformation in the same manner enjoyed by Manchester City in 2008 after its takeover by another Middle Eastern entity — Abu Dhabi. Staveley, who brokered the City takeover, is also fronting the Saudi takeover of Newcastle.