Premier League: Newcastle sale greeted with outrage and hypocrisy

The Saudi-led takeover of Newcastle United has raised some justified criticism, but as John Roycroft describes, much of it is couched in hypocrisy and jealousy.
Premier League: Newcastle sale greeted with outrage and hypocrisy

Newcastle United fans celebrate at St James' Park following the announcement that The Saudi-led takeover of Newcastle has been approved. Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire

WITH the international break in the rear-view mirror, we pick up where we left off in the Premier League and the issue testing the league's moral compass. Namely the Newcastle United takeover by the Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF).

To say the reaction to the acquisition has been mixed is an understatement. The majority of Newcastle fans, at least those outside St James' Park at least, were besides themselves in joy with the idea that this perennially underachieving giant of a club might now have the resources available to them to compete with the very best in the elite leagues of England and Europe.

No sooner was the takeover announced, than you could almost see the fans picking out where to place the Premier League and Champions League cups in their seriously underused trophy cabinet.

Countering this, some sources baulked at the overt, even crass, elation for the takeover of a football club using the funds from a totalitarian, some might say sinister state.

Still, it is totally understandable for the long-suffering Toon Army to ignore the irregularity of the purchaser's background in the distracting elation that they are now in the rare position to have the finances to compete for all the major titles they dreamed of, rather than the constant struggle for mere survival that has defined so much of their existence in top-flight football.

While PIF has 'proven' to the league that they are sufficiently removed from the Saudi state to be worthy investors in the purchase of a club in the league. It has not resolved the disquiet that it still is a deliberate move to sportswash the reputation and finances of a deeply disturbing regime through the laundry of sporting success and fans unquestioning love for their team.

Some other members of the league were quick to express their concerns too at an extraordinary meeting on Tuesday of the 19 other sides of the Premier League. Newcastle were not invited, as it is hard to talk behind someone's back when they are sitting in front of you.

Chief Executive of the Premier League, Richard Masters addressed the meeting of Premier League clubs expressing their disquiet at the Newcastle takeover.
Chief Executive of the Premier League, Richard Masters addressed the meeting of Premier League clubs expressing their disquiet at the Newcastle takeover.

The meeting was held to explain the decision by the league to approve Newcastle's £305m Saudi-led takeover. But it soon became clear that several clubs, mainly Man United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Spurs, and Everton, voiced strong opposition to the deal.

They did so, not in disgust at Saudi-led human rights abuse, but rather in the knowledge that they are the sides most likely to suffer with the arrival of another nouveau riche side to the already tight fight for the very lucrative, top-four, Champions League qualification places.

With fellow oil-financed upstarts Man City, and Chelsea already firmly ensconced in two of the four spots, the thought of another permanent resident in the upper-tier has put the scare on the traditional giants of the English game who must raise their finances through success and merch, without the benefits of falling back on a rich sugar-daddy in the desert.

In a way, it's ironic that these same sides that made their ill-fated and ill-judged attempt to set up the breakaway European Superleague should now find themselves in the precarious position of having their financial destiny removed from their control by rich outside influencers.

Their opposition couched in the same hypocrisy and jealousy that scuppered their own superleague bid. Of course, there was no mention of genuine concern for fans or the love of the game at the meeting.

Funnily, at Tuesday's meeting, the lower-ranked Premier League sides did not seem as disturbed by the Newcastle takeover as their better-financed brethren. Their hypocrisy and jealousy had helped kill off the superleague. Now there was no indignant 'think of the fans' response to the Newcastle takeover as it does not affect them financially in the way the superleague threatened the demise of the entire Premier League and their access to its bounty.

There are no alternatives now for the Premier League, when they opened their door to the riches of the oil oligarchs it ended any pretence of ethical ownership. They now have to live the consequences.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is the chair of Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund,. Picture: Saudi Press Agency via AP
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is the chair of Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund,. Picture: Saudi Press Agency via AP

Outside of the game, media and political mouthpieces quite rightly pointed out the disgusting behaviour of the Saudi state and that cultural and sporting entities should not be allowed to cover up the wrongs of evil empires. Yet, all the while, the British state and its industries sell military equipment and weapons to the value of billions of oil dollars each year, with hardly the blink of an eye from the establishment. It takes some neck to set Newcastle United a standard that Britain, the West, and industry doesn't even try to attain.

The celebrations of the Geordie crowds may have been crass to our comfortable sensibilities but at least it wasn't hypocritical.

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