Newcastle United could soon have new owners, with a £300 million ($375m) takeover bid under way to take the Premier League club out of the hands of the notorious Mike Ashley.
Magpies fans have been agitating for a change of owner for years now, having witnessed two relegations under Ashley's stewardship, with a feeling of frustration festering among devotees of the Tyneside club.
Ashley is all too aware of that sentiment and he placed the club up for sale back in 2017. After some false starts, it appears that he may now have found a buyer, with the Premier League being informed that the process is close to completion.
So who is buying Newcastle from the Sports Direct boss and what are their plans? Goal brings you everything you need to know about the prospective takeover.
Who is buying Newcastle United?
Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF), which is headed up by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is the main mover behind the bid to purchase Newcastle United from Ashley.
It has been reported that the takeover plans will see the Saudi PIF acquire an 80 per cent stake in the club. The remaining 20% will be split between Amanda Staveley's PCP Capital Partners (10%) and British businessmen, the Reuben brothers (10%).
The PIF is Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund, which invests in various different projects around the world. PCP Capital Partners is a venture capital company and the Reuben brothers - David and Simon - are primarily in the property investment sector.
If the takeover of the club goes ahead, Yasir Al-Rumayyan is in line to become Newcastle chairman, according to the Evening Chronicle. Al-Rumayyan, who is also involved with Saudi Aramco, Uber and SoftBank, will be joined on the club board by Staveley.
Yorkshire native Staveley, who helped broker the purchase of Manchester City by Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Mansour in 2008, has been involved in negotiations regarding the potential purchase of Newcastle for a number of years, having attempted to strike a deal with Ashley in 2017, when he initially put the club up for sale.
After that deal disintegrated, Ashley described the talks as "exhausting, frustrating and a complete waste of time", but Staveley was not put off by the sports retail magnate's dismissive comments, telling The National in 2019 that it was "water under the bridge".
“We are big fans of Newcastle, big fans of the team,” Staveley said at the time, adding that the Tyneside outfit was among "a lot of clubs" her group was looking at.
The plan behind the takeover is, naturally, to improve the fortunes of the club and transform Newcastle into a team that challenges for Premier League and Champions League glory, similar to that which has happened at Chelsea and Man City.
"For too long, Newcastle has existed for the benefit of one man and that won’t be the case with the new owners," Alex Hurst, chair of Newcastle United Supporters Trust, told the Guardian.
"As supporters, what we want to see from them is the club being run in a sustainable, transparent and ambitious manner.
"We aren’t demanding we win trophies, or win the Champions League, and we appreciate they might not be able to provide us with a 'Manchester City effect', but what we do want is a firm sense that we have our club back and that it’s again going in the right direction."
Interestingly, it is not the first Premier League club that the Saudi investors have been involved in discussions with. There had been reports in 2019 that Mohammed bin Salman was considering a £3.8 billion ($4.9bn) takeover of Manchester United. The takeover talks were dismissed as "completely untrue", but discussions were held between the club and the PIF about an "advertisement sponsorship project".
What are the difficulties with the Newcastle takeover?
A number of issues have arisen since April when the Saudi takeover of Newcastle appeared to be gathering momentum.
The chief sticking point relates to a dispute with Qatari television company beIN Sports and allegations of broadcast piracy, which is something that the Premier League has had to treat very seriously
In June, the BBC revealed that Angus MacNeil, a member of the British parliament, wrote a letter to the government condemning the idea of broadcast piracy in Saudi Arabia and urging them to block the takeover.
Saudi authorities appeared to be dealing with the issues and were reported to have moved closer to a deal, but a set-back occurred in July when beIN Sports was banned from operating in Saudi Arabia.
In a statement, beIN said: “We would question - as we have for three years - how Saudi citizens can watch Premier League matches legally in Saudi Arabia with this ‘permanent’ ban on the Premier League’s licensed broadcaster."
The stand-off between the Qatari broadcasters and the Saudi government is part of a wider dispute between the two countries, which has been ongoing for a number of years and has been described in some quarters as a "cold war".
As well as the financial and legal complications related to the broadcast dispute, Amnesty International has declared that the Premier League risks becoming "a patsy" if it sanctions the takeover.
"I believe there are serious questions to address in determining whether the owners and directors of the company seeking to acquire NUFC are meeting standards that can protect the reputation and image of the game," Amnesty's UK director Kate Allen said in a letter to Premier League chief Richard Masters.
"If the Crown Prince, by virtue of his authority over Saudi Arabia's economic relations and via control of his country's sovereign wealth fund, becomes the beneficial owner of NUFC, how can this be positive for the reputation and image of the Premier League?
"So long as these questions remain unaddressed, the Premier League is putting itself at risk of becoming a patsy of those who want to use the glamour and prestige of Premier League football to cover up actions that are deeply immoral, in breach of international law and at odds with the values of the Premier League and the global footballing community."
The BBC reported in June that complaints made by Hatiz Cengiz, the fiancee of assassinated journalist Jamal Khashoggi, have also been heard by Premier League bosses.
What transfers are Newcastle's potential new owners considering?
Should the Staveley-driven, Saudi-backed takeover of Newcastle eventually happen, significant financial investment is expected, particularly in the transfer market.
The Middle Eastern kingdom is one of the richest states in the world and their backing would potentially make Newcastle a major player when it comes to signing players, similar to Man City's transformation under Sheikh Mansour.
Barcelona have offered Philippe Coutinho to the club, Goal has learned, with the Spanish giants believed to be open to striking a loan-to-buy agreement. However, Arsenal have also been sounded out
Antoine Griezmann has been touted as a potential recruit once the takeover is complete, with Sport Mediaset reporting that the Barcelona star is on the agenda. The outlet also reports that former Juventus and AC Milan head coach Massimiliano Allegri is being lined up as a replacement for Steve Bruce.
As well as Allegri, ex-Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino has been tipped as a potential new Newcastle manager, with Magpies legend Mick Martin telling the Express: "[Pochettino] knows big players, he knows South America and he knows Europe. He’s a big name in the game."
Former Newcastle boss Rafa Benitez has also been thrown into the rumour mill, despite leaving the club for China following a protracted disagreement with Ashley over the club's transfers.
A number of Premier League players have also been linked with Newcastle, including Aston Villa midfielder John McGinn and Burnley winger Dwight McNeil. McGinn, who has also been touted as a potential Manchester United transfer target, would likely cost in the region of £20 million to £30 million, while McNeil is believed to be valued at £35 million.
Lyon striker Moussa Dembele has been a target for Newcastle for a number of months now, while fans excitedly ponder the possibility that new billionaire owners would have the capacity to sign Paris Saint-Germain superstar Kylian Mbappe.
Others who might be more realistic in the immediate future are AC Milan duo Franck Kessie and Hakan Calhanoglu. Ivory Coast international Kessie would add steel to the Magpies midfield, while Turkey star Calhanoglu possesses impressive technique, particularly from set-pieces.
Will Newcastle's new owners expand St James' Park?
As well as investing money into the club's transfer budget in order to lure big-name players to the north east of England, Newcastle's prospective new owners are planning to improve St James' Park.
The 52,000-capacity stadium was given a slight facelift in 2019, but has not been extensively expanded since 2000 and other stadium developments have seen it slip down the table of biggest football venues in the UK. It is now the 10th largest football stadium in the country and, despite boasting one of the biggest fanbases in the UK, Newcastle now have a smaller ground than clubs such as West Ham and Tottenham.
It is not yet clear how St James' Park will be redeveloped, but a typically modernizing upgrade is likely.
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