Same old Toon: The waiting game for Newcastle fans rumbles on

Mike Ashley was so convinced his 13-year reign was finally at an end, he instructed his communications team to draft a statement to confirm as much, with £300m (€335m) reasons to remember his time on Tyneside rather more fondly than any Newcastle supporter ever will.
Same old Toon: The waiting game for Newcastle fans rumbles on
Amanda Staveley fronts the Saudi fund which is bidding to take over from Mike Ashley as the new owners of Newcastle United.
Amanda Staveley fronts the Saudi fund which is bidding to take over from Mike Ashley as the new owners of Newcastle United.

And still the wait goes on.

The prospect of an obscenely wealthy Saudi Arabian-led consortium, backed by Britain’s second-richest family — waiting in the wings to complete a takeover and with it seal the departure of a largely despised owner — would appear to be the kind of panacea to soothe the ills of just about any football club.

Unless, it appears, that football club happens to be Newcastle United.

Mike Ashley was so convinced his 13-year reign was finally at an end, he instructed his communications team to draft a statement to confirm as much, with £300m (€335m) reasons to remember his time on Tyneside rather more fondly than any Newcastle supporter ever will.

That was almost two months ago. Thanks to Saudi caution, observing the custom of waiting the full completion of a transaction before making a formal announcement, the press release anyone and everyone of a black and white persuasion is desperate to feast their eyes upon remains unsent in the outbox.

A brave new world sits tantalisingly within reach. But it is a fresh start which brings with it caveats, at a club where takeover hopes and dreams have been dashed at an alarmingly regular rate during the turbulent Ashley era.

The celebrations won’t begin, can’t begin, until Mr Sports Direct has finally left the building. And even then, there are likely to be fresh issues to wrestle with.

Delay fatigue has set in among fans waiting for confirmation that the Amanda Staveley-fronted Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund — which includes finance from the billionaire brothers David and Simon Reuben — has finally been given the green light to usher in a new dawn.

Amidst the tempered optimism, there remains a nagging doubt that with this impending change at the top, Newcastle are simply exchanging the frying pan for the fire.

Better the devil you know than one faced with vociferous opposition from Amnesty International and the fiancee of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Ashley has his many faults, and to rub salt into wounds, Newcastle are the only top flight club to remain silent on refunds for season ticket holders, while continuing to take direct-debit payments from supporters since football was suspended in March.

But at least his record on human rights remains slightly less sullied than that of the Saudis.

Lob in objections to the proposed takeover from Qatar-based broadcaster beIN Sports on the grounds of TV piracy — only the soap opera that is the North-East Enders could see them be unwittingly sucked into Middle East political power struggle — and the Premier League would seem to have their work cut out.

They must sift through the debris and the hubris before ruling on whether to give the takeover their blessing. It’s a thankless task which brings the words ‘hiding’ and ‘nothing’ to mind as they will leave themselves open to some hefty criticism whichever way they decide.

Such has been the complexity of their deliberations on Newcastle’s situation, the league is likely to orchestrate a significant revamp of their entire owners’ and directors’ test given the overly limiting perimeters of their current framework to this particular moral minefield.

Staveley and the Saudis remain confident of a positive outcome, but success may come at a cost.

Perhaps the only protagonist looking at a win-win scenario in an increasingly murky plotline is Steve Bruce.

Given the unavailability of his favourite Ponteland boozer to which to retreat, the Newcastle manager has taken to repairing of a different kind, finding a hitherto well-hidden aptitude for DIY during lockdown in rural Cheshire.

There’s a persuasive argument to suggest he’s overseen a pretty decent rebuild of his own in 11 months at St James’ Park, against the backdrop of the underwhelming response to his appointment from supporters who remain unconvinced of his credentials to lead anything more than an annual battle for Premier League survival.

Newcastle will re-start the campaign a comfortable eight points above the relegation zone with three consecutive home games, the third of which is against Manchester City for a place in the last four of the FA Cup.

For a club with such a woeful record in knockout competition thanks to a startling lack of ambition from Ashley, the potential of featuring twice at Wembley while supporters remain barred from attending games is not lost on the Gallowgate faithful.

In typically forthright style, Bruce has promised to ‘give it a crack’ should he be afforded the opportunity to do so if and when the new owners join the cast-list of this particularly enthralling on-going box-set.

However, Mauricio Pochettino or Rafa Benitez may be a more attractive proposition to a fresh regime keen to put its stamp on things, something of which Bruce is acutely aware.

Should that happen, the 59-year-old will leave with a hefty severance package and a line of clubs keen to provide him with an immediate return to management, his reputation enhanced by the work he has undertaken for his hometown club in testing circumstances.

Middlesbrough were beaten by the odd goal in five this week, and another Championship club in the form of Hull City will provide the opponents today as Newcastle step-up preparations for their return to competitive action on June 21 against a Sheffield United side they have already beaten this season.

As with all those clubs preparing to resume the campaign after such a lengthy spell of inactivity, attempts to accurately predict the likely outcome of what remains should be at best tentative.

Advice, it seems, which would also be wise to follow when trying to second-guess the manner of Ashley’s eventual end-game on Tyneside. And still the wait goes on.

Who’s who in the protracted takeover

The 47-year-old Yorkshire-born businesswoman Amanda Staveley fronts Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, which is set to take an 80% controlling interest in Newcastle United.

Staveley, who helped to broker the £210m buyout of Manchester City by Sheikh Mansour in 2008, will take a 10% stake at St James’ Park through her company PCP Capital Partners. It is a figure that will be matched by the billionaire property investment brothers from the UK’s second-richest family, David and Simon Reuben.

The £300m (€334,) deal in place with current Newcastle owner Mike Ashley includes a non-refundable deposit of £17m paid to the Sports Direct chief.

There are other suitors in the background waiting to see the outcome of the Premier League’s lengthy owners’ and directors’ test on the Saudi-backed bid, a process which has been delayed due to the league’s concentration on Project Restart following the three-month lockdown for Covid-19.

US-based media tycoon Henry Mauriss also has an interest in a takeover on Tyneside, but is yet to make his intentions known.

More in this section

Sport Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up