The Saudi takeover of Newcastle United is set to be approved after the Gulf state settled its piracy dispute with Premier League broadcast partner beIN Sports and gave assurances over who will control the club.
Sources close to the process have indicated that the lifting of a four-year ban of Qatar-based beIN Sports being shown in Saudi, as well as the removal of all forms of piracy in the country, will now pave the way for the £300million deal to be signed off imminently, ending Mike Ashley’s 14-year ownership.
The proposed buyout was abandoned in the summer of 2020 when the consortium – led by Saudi’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) and including Amanda Staveley and the Reuben brothers – were unable to prove separation between themselves and the Saudi state, headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Mike Ashley’s 14-year reign as owner of Newcastle United looks to be coming to an end
The takeover is backed by Saudi’s Public Investment Fund, led by Prince Mohamed bin Salman
The Premier League have now received assurances that the state will not be directly involved in the running of the club and sources say this will see the deal given the green light in the coming days.
Ashley opened arbitration proceedings against the Premier League last year in a bid to revive the takeover, and that case was set to be heard this coming January. However, that is now unlikely to take place.
The Premier League had delayed their decision on approving the deal – via its owners and directors test – given concerns over the involvement of the Saudi state, who they believe have been behind the piracy of their product over several years.
But with piracy issues having now been resolved and the Premier League satisfied they will not be signing off on Saudi-state ownership, Newcastle fans are finally set to wave goodbye to Ashley and welcome a new era that will see them among the richest clubs in the world.
A source told Sportsmail: ‘If all of this had been done 18 months ago, the takeover would have been signed off already.
‘The Premier League could not approve a takeover whereby one of its member clubs would be owned by a state it believed to be guilty of piracy against the League and one of its broadcast partners. The League has tried to sue the Saudi state nine times in relation to piracy.
‘That was why the buyers had to prove separation from the Saudi state. That was almost impossible, especially given the revelations about Mohammed bin Salman texting Boris Johnson and pressurising him to influence the deal.
‘But those issues, including piracy, have now been resolved. Crucially, the Premier League do not want to be seen to be connected directly to the Saudi state.’
Sportsmail revealed in April that Bin Salman had lobbied Mr Johnson last year in an attempt to get the deal done. Bin Salman told the Prime Minister, ‘We expect the English Premier League to reconsider and correct its wrong conclusion’. He also warned that Anglo-Saudi relations could be damaged if the move was not approved.
High-level talks are said to have continued in recent weeks and compromises have been reached, with the Saudis taking the lead on negotiations.
We understand as recently as last week beIN Sports sent a list of websites to Saudi officials, informing them of ongoing piracy. Within days all of those websites were shut down and assurances have been made that a $1billion damages claim will also be settled.
The impending approval of the takeover will lead to criticism of the Premier League by human-rights groups, especially as Bin Salman was named by US intelligent services as signing off on the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
It is likely the League will attempt to sidestep such questions by insisting that the PIF-led consortium – and not the state – are the owners of the club.
It appears there could soon be a new ownership group in charge of Newcastle United
Before the collapse of the deal last year, PIF was set to take an 80 per cent stake with Staveley and British businessmen David and Simon Reuben halving the remaining 20 per cent. Staveley, it is said, will front the takeover in the short-term.
Newcastle are currently second bottom of the Premier League and without a win in seven matches under Steve Bruce.
The Newcastle United Supporters Trust revealed this week that 94 per cent of its members want Bruce to resign, although the takeover will now almost certainly bring about a change of manager.
The buyers, meanwhile, have always insisted that investment would be gradual and that their immediate focus will be on the infrastructural improvement of the club, as well as various other projects in the region.
No parties would officially comment on the takeover last night, although sources close to Ashley say he expects the deal to go through.
beIn Sports have settled a piracy row in Saudi Arabia, paving the way for the deal to be done