Newcastle United fans were dreaming of a future without Mike Ashley and the prospect of some of the world’s best players plying their trade at St James’ Park before news broke that a £300 million takeover of the club had fallen through.
On Thursday, a consortium that had shook hands with Ashley on a deal back in April, pulled out of the takeover after growing frustrated with the Premier League’s lengthy deliberation over whether or not to give their bid the green light.
The plan was for three parties; Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF), PCP Capital Partners and RB Sports & Media to purchase the club and invest huge sums of money in an attempt to make Newcastle a force in English and European football.
Now, those dreams are in tatters and fans face the prospect of Ashley remaining in charge for the foreseeable future, while he desperately searches for a new bidder. Sportsmail examines where it all went wrong and what is next for the club…
In January 2018, Ashley pulled out of a negotiations to sell the club to a consortium led by American businesswoman and head of PCP Capital Partners, Amanda Staveley, after growing frustrated with negotiations. Staveley refused to give up and partnered with PIF to help fund a second bid.
A deal was agreed in April subject to the Premier League’s approval but the involvement of the Saudi government, who would’ve owned 80% of the club, sparked criticism from human rights groups and television companies.
Amnesty International questioned the conduct of Saudi’s ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and urged the Premier League to disqualify him from potential ownership. They said his presence would harm the integrity of the league, while suggesting the Saudi government would simply use the club for political gain.
The takeover was further complicated by a World Trade Organisation report which found representatives of the Saudi state had facilitated the activity of the pirate network beoutQ, which illegally broadcast a host of sporting events including Premier League matches.
That long list of objections saw the Premier League deliberate for 16 weeks over the proposed takeover, causing the consortium to miss the deadline to complete the deal, which was initially slated for June. That impasse eventually saw the group lose patience, and prompted them to pull the plug on Thursday.
Following the collapse of the Saudi takeover, rumours have linked American entrepreneur, Henry Mauriss, with a bid for the club but Staveley has dismissed those reports and says her consortium remain the sole interested party.
Mauriss is the CEO of a media company called Clear TV and reports had claimed he was willing to pay £350m to buy the club – £50m more than the deal agreed between Ashley and the Saudi-funded investors.
According to the Northern Echo, Mauriss has established contact with Ashley through an associate named Justin Barnes but he hasn’t yet lodged a bid and there is scepticism over whether he has the financial muscle required to buy the club and invest in its future.
Ashley, who is desperate to sell as soon as possible, is keen for clarity from Mauriss with the new Premier League season looming large on the horizon. Should the Californian opt not to launch a bid, Ashley is likely to remain Newcastle’s owner for the foreseeable future.
In their statement announcing their withdrawal from the takeover, Staveley’s consortium pointed to the COVID-19 crisis as another reason behind the deal’s collapse and it seems unlikely that investors will look to purchase football clubs given the loss of revenue caused by the pandemic.
Staveley’s dogged pursuit of Newcastle United clearly goes beyond financial motivation. The British born businesswoman says she’s been left ‘devastated’ by the collapse of a second takeover bid and is refusing to give up on buying the club.
In an interview with The Athletic, Staveley says her consortium had grand plans to invest not just in the club but also the wider community, having already spoken to local authorities about housing development projects in the city.
Fans will hope her emotional attachment to Newcastle will see the bid revived but the chances of that happening appear slim. Staveley has called on the fans to pressure the Premier League to challenge their ‘unfair’ stance but convincing Ashley and the Saudi investors to return to the table is another matter.
Ashley has now seen two takeover bids involving Staveley fail to materialise and that may have damaged her credibility beyond repair, while her Saudi partners could use their bottomless pit of cash to invest in another club.
One silver lining for Newcastle is the £17m Ashley has pocketed following the collapse of the deal. That sum is the deposit the consortium put down when they submitted their offer but will now go into the club coffers.
Fans will hope that money will go towards summer signings but with Newcastle starved of income from matchday crowds, Ashley may be reluctant to spend big as he attempts to tighten the purse strings and cut costs.
But he will also be aware that failure to invest could see Newcastle struggle in the top flight next season. The Magpies were tipped for the drop at the start of last season but finished in a respectable 13th position, 10 points clear of safety.
Repeating that achievement will be a difficult task for a side who only scored 38 goals in 38 Premier League games and Ashley will know that his club will be a far less attractive proposition to potential buyers if they drop into the Championship.
Last summer the club spent £65m, including £39.6m on club record signing Joelinton and a further £16m on winger Allan Saint-Maximim. Given that sizeable outlay, manager Steve Bruce may have to sell before he buys or look to the free transfer market for reinforcements.
A poll of the Newcastle United Supporters Trust’s 10,000 members showed that 96.7% of fans were in support of the Saudi takeover and supporters are now understandably devastated that hopes of big money investment have been dashed.
Greg Tomlinson, who works for the Trust, told the BBC that ‘answers are needed from the Premier League’ over their failure to approve the deal, while he also bemoaned the prospect of the club remaining under Ashley’s ownership.
He said: ‘Everyone was excited about the bid and potential investment in the city, so it represents a missed opportunity for Newcastle and the north-east as a region.
‘We’re left confused about what has gone on here – it’s been almost 17 weeks of noise.
‘It’s been made clear that football supporters are the least important part in a decision which affects supporters the most.
‘We have been treated with contempt.’
Another fan, Michelle George, says supporters have been left ‘devastated’ and questioned whether many would spend their money on new shirts and merchandise while they remain under the current ownership.
‘As fans, we are heartbroken. It sounds dramatic but we have suffered for 13 years under Ashley through a lack of interest and investment in the club.’