Dubai: Chances of Newcastle United changing hands - and coming under influential Arab ownership - have started looking much better than ever before.
The faithful at Tyneside have been holding their breath for quite a while till the sale documents were lodged with Companies House last week - indicating a step closer towards the possible sale. Late on Tuesday, it was reported that owner Mike Ashley had finally acceded to selling the club for an estimated £300 million (Dhs 1.38 billion) to the consortium fronted by Amanda Staveley with backing from billionaire Reuben Brothers and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.
Established in 1892 and owned by Ashley since 2007 when he succeeded long-term chairman Sir John Hall, Newcastle has a history with several attempts of being sold.
The first instance was in June 2009 when star striker Alan Shearer was appointed interim manager in the absence of manager Joe Kinnear, who had to undergo heart surgery. Under Shearer, the club was relegated to the Football League Championship – the first time since Newcastle joined the Premier League in 1993.
Ashley’s asking price then had been £100 million. Chris Hughton was appointed caretaker and then on a full-time basis on October 27, 2009. However on the same day, Ashley famously announced that the club was no longer on sale.
Newcastle got relegated again at the end of the 2015-16 season, but returned among the elites after just one season. On October 16, 2017, Ashley put Newcastle United up for sale a second time as the team finished the season with a 3-0 win over previous champions Chelsea to finish 10th in the league.
However, over the past couple of seasons, Ashley has come under increased scrutiny for his lack of investment in the squad and an apparent lack of focus on other business ventures.
Much to their credit, the club is the 17th highest revenue producing one in the world in terms of annual revenue, generating £148 million in 2015. Newcastle’s highest placing was in 1999 when they were the fifth-highest revenue producing football club in the world and second in England only behind Manchester United.
For long, supporters have cited a lack of ambition and have also criticised Ashley’s conduct during the coronavirus pandemic when the club has charged fans for next season’s season tickets. There has also been huge disappointment at Newcastle as it is one of three Premier League clubs to have placed their non-playing staff on furlough.
The initial deal with the consortium was estimated at £ 340 million, but the latest development following the coronavirus outbreak has brought down the asking price.
News of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund PIF being involved in a takeover first emerged in January this year. At that stage, talks were described as “advanced but complicated.”
Staveley, who is believed to be seeking only a 10 per cent stake in Newcastle, first attempted to buy the club in 2018. Talks did not make much headway but given Ashley’s ficklemindedness but reports are emerging that things are progressing in the right direction.
The sale papers have been lodged with the Premier League, but such paperwork takes at least a month to get a seal of approval. Whoever buys Newcastle United, the club can at least be assured of being in a better financial state than Ashley’s tenure for the last 13 years.