The Times, of London....
The Saudi-backed bid to buy Newcastle United was today withdrawn, with Amanda Staveley, the businesswoman at the centre of it, blaming the decision on opposition from rival clubs and the Premier League delaying approval.
Staveley was in tears as she spoke about the consortium’s decision today to withdraw the £300 million offer to Newcastle’s owner, Mike Ashley. She also criticised the Premier League for not approving the takeover — it has been more than four months since the process began but the league has still not given any indication of when it would make a decision.
“We are heartbroken obviously,” she said. Asked if she blamed the Premier League for taking too long, she replied: “Of course we do. They had a chance, they say we have not answered all the questions and we have done so. But the other clubs in the Premier League didn’t want it to happen.
“We are so heartbroken for the Newcastle fans as the investment that was going to go into the club, especially with everything happening with Brexit and Covid, would have been so important. This is catastrophic for them.
“It has been going on for so long and the opportunity was there.”
Insiders close to the takeover bid suggested that Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur were among those clubs that opposed it.
The Premier League has been wrestling with approving the takeover bid owing to Saudi Arabia’s involvement in TV piracy. The Gulf state has been found by the World Trade Organisation to have facilitated the piracy of Premier League matches being broadcast by Qatar’s beIN Sport.
The Saudi public investment fund (PIF) — the country’s sovereign wealth fund and overseen by the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman — would have gained an 80 per cent stake in Newcastle. Under Premier League rules, the PIF would have been viewed as a “shadow” director when it came to passing the owners’ and directors’ test
Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners would have taken 10 per cent in the club which is controlled by Ashley, the owner of the Sports Direct chain, and the other 10 per cent going to property developers Simon and David Reuben. It is understood that Ashley stands to keep at least half of the £17 million down payment.
Staveley insisted: “The piracy issue was not an issue but we tried to resolve it anyway.
“They [the Premier League] tried to make the state of Saudi a director. The PIF had agreed to become a director.”
She said the consortium had had no option but to put a joint statement out.
““Do we give up now? I don’t know, there may be a way forward, but we have had to put a statement out,” added Staveley. “I’m trying to deal with the facts and we had to make a decision today.”
According to those acting for the Saudis, the Premier League’s failure to offer any kind of timeline on a decision was a major factor in their decision to withdraw. “We just couldn’t get a decision out of them,” said a source close to the deal who claimed the consortium was given private assurances that the process would not take too long.
The buyers were also led to believe, said the source, that there was nothing in the Premier League rules that would prove insurmountable in completing the purchase of the club and that at no point in the process have they been made aware of an issue that would prevent them from succeeding Ashley as owners.
But they believe significant pressure applied by beIN Sports, as the Premier League’s biggest international broadcast partner, caused the delays and led to further questions - though they believed they had answered those.
Sources also claim that there was a late attempt by Ashley to renegotiate the £300 million deal amid reports of a rival offer of closer to £350 million from an American consortium.
The statement was published jointly by the PIF, PCP Capital Partners, and RB Sports & Media [the Reuben brothers].
It said that “the investment group . . . has formally withdrawn its interest in pursuing the acquisition of Newcastle United Limited and Newcastle United Football Club Limited”.
It is understood that it was the intention of the Saudis to inject £250 million into the club with more into the Newcastle community, and that a Saudi company would bid for the next Premier League broadcast rights for the Middle East and North Africa.
The statement added: “With a deep appreciation for the Newcastle community and the significance of its football club, we have come to the decision to withdraw our interest in acquiring Newcastle United Football Club. We do so with regret, as we were excited and fully committed to invest in the great city of Newcastle and believe we could have returned the Club to the position of its history, tradition and fans’ merit.
“Unfortunately, the prolonged process under the current circumstances coupled with global uncertainty has rendered the potential investment no longer commercially viable.”
The statement added: “We feel a responsibility to the fans to explain the lack of alternatives from an investment perspective.
“As an autonomous and purely commercial investor, our focus was on building long-term value for the club, its fans and the community as we remained committed to collaboration, practicality and proactivity through a difficult period of global uncertainty and significant challenges for the fans and the club.
“Ultimately, during the unforeseeably prolonged process, the commercial agreement between the investment group and the club’s owners expired and our investment thesis could not be sustained, particularly with no clarity as to the circumstances under which the next season will start and the new norms that will arise for matches, training and other activities.
“As often occurs with proposed investments in uncertain periods, time itself became an enemy of the transaction, particularly during this difficult phase marked by the many real challenges facing us all from Covid-19
“We feel great compassion for the Newcastle United fans with whom we shared a great commitment to help Newcastle United harness its tremendous potential and build upon its impressive and historic legacy while working closely with the local community.
“We would like to say that we truly appreciated your incredible expressions of support and your patience throughout this process. We are sorry it is not to be.
“We wish the team and everyone associated with it much good luck and success