Amanda Staveley has vowed to transform Newcastle into a club challenging for trophies and Champions League football after her Saudi-backed consortium finally completed its takeover.
Thousands of delirious fans converged on St James’ Park on Thursday evening to celebrate official confirmation that Mike Ashley’s ill-fated reign on Tyneside was over, with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, which has taken an 80 per cent stake in the club, Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners and RB Sports & Media having handed over £305million in exchange for the keys.
The financier told supporters outside the Jesmond Dene House hotel, where the consortium members had gathered to await news, that they were there for the long haul and would invest in the club, and later outlined her vision for the future.
Asked if a return to Champions League football – the Magpies have qualified for Europe only once during Ashley’s 14-plus years at the helm – was the aim, Staveley told the PA news agency: “I would hope so.
“Obviously we bought this club with a view that we want the fans to get the trophies they deserve and we need to work with the fans to help us get there and that will take some time.
“We’re not going to be winning the Premier League just yet and it’s going to take some time to build the infrastructure at all levels to allow us to challenge for trophies.
“We love the FA Cup. Newcastle last won the FA Cup in 1955 – that’s a long time. We’ll get there.
“We’re obviously painfully aware of the relegation issue and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure the club is not relegated.
“But all decisions about players and managers are for another day.”
Staveley’s optimism is based at the Magpies’ new-found spending power – PIF is chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, making the club potentially one of the richest in football.
However, she warned that investment, while sizeable, would also be sensible.
She said: “Yes, we have deep pockets, but we have to also be commercially sensible in terms of there are rules around investment in the Premier League. We have to keep within those, and we’re fully aware of that.
“But we’re going to invest at every level, and I think that Mike knew we would be good caretakers going forward.”
Staveley revealed she had spoken to head coach Steve Bruce, but insisted no decision on his future had yet been taken.
Bruce, though, accepted he may be replaced, saying in an interview with the Daily Telegraph: “I want to continue, I’d like the chance to show the new owners what I can do, but you have to be realistic and they may well want a new manager to launch things for them.”
The takeover was confirmed in a Premier League statement which revealed it had received “legally binding assurances” that the Saudi state would not control the football club, one of the main stumbling blocks when the bid was first sent for approval back in April last year which prompted Ashley to take legal action.
The statement said: “The legal disputes concerned which entities would own and/or have the ability to control the club following the takeover.
“All parties have agreed the settlement is necessary to end the long uncertainty for fans over the club’s ownership.
“The Premier League has now received legally binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control Newcastle United Football Club.
Following the completion of the Premier League’s Owners’ and Directors’ Test, the club has been sold to the consortium with immediate effect.— Premier League Communications (@PLComms) October 7, 2021
“All parties are pleased to have concluded this process which gives certainty and clarity to Newcastle United Football Club and their fans.”
PA understands that the Premier League is comfortable with the new ownership structure, despite the closeness of PIF to the Saudi government.
The PIF says on its own website that it “acts as the Kingdom’s main investment arm to deliver a strategy focused on achieving attractive financial returns and long-term value for Saudi Arabia”.
It is understood that if any direct involvement from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia became apparent, it would constitute a breach of Premier League rules and could lead to the owners being disqualified.
Asked about the issue of separation, Staveley said: “The Premier League has issued a statement today, they’ve made their views on the separation very clear. There is very clear separation between PIF and the Saudi state.”
𝗔𝗠𝗕𝗜𝗧𝗜𝗢𝗡 👊— Newcastle United FC (@NUFC) October 7, 2021
Sources close to the league have insisted that establishing who would have control of the club had always been at the centre of the takeover dispute, rather than piracy.
They also suggested Wednesday’s news of an end to the commercial dispute between the Premier League’s Middle East broadcast partner beIN SPORTS and Saudi Arabia was a consequence of the work towards a settlement on the takeover, rather than a precursor which allowed the takeover to go ahead.
Newcastle confirmed in a statement that PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan would act as the club’s non-executive chairman, while Staveley, chief executive of PCP, will have a seat on the board and Jamie Reuben, of RB Sports & Media, will also serve as a director.
The statement added: “Today’s announcement is the conclusion of a thorough and detailed process that has allowed the Investment Group to arrive at a deal that benefits all stakeholders and will leave Newcastle United well-placed to pursue a clear, long-term strategy.”
News of the takeover was greeted with dismay by Amnesty International, who described it as “an extremely bitter blow for human rights defenders”.
Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s CEO, said: “We can understand that this will be seen as a great day by many Newcastle United fans, but it’s also a very worrying day for anyone who cares about the ownership of English football clubs and whether these great clubs are being used to sportswash human rights abuse.
“In our assessment, this deal was always more about sportswashing than it was about football, with Saudi Arabia’s aggressive move into sport as a vehicle for image-management and PR plain for all to see.”
However, asked about concerns over Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, Staveley said: “I totally understand that, but as I said before, PIF is a really autonomous organisation and I wouldn’t be working with them and partnering if I thought there were any concerns at that level.
“I wouldn’t, nor would I be investing alongside them.”
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