This is not an article about the ethical questions posed by our club’s ownership, nor is it commentary on the nature of the coverage that Newcastle United receives.  If that’s the content you are after, then you are already well-served elsewhere and I would politely suggest you go there.

It would, of course, be customary to open an article by outlining what it is about, rather than what it isn’t – but, unfortunately, it seems necessary to attach disclaimers, caveats and limitation clauses to everything associated with Newcastle United these days: one can barely suggest that Jonjo Shelvey’s form has improved, without the debate swiftly turning to Saudi Arabia and its (abysmal) record on human rights.

This article is about our new away kit, which bears a striking resemblance to Saudi Arabia’s national kit, the one in which Saeed Al-Owairan, the “Maradona of the desert”, danced through the Belgian defence at USA ‘94 (YouTube clip here – a magnificent goal, if I may say that without being accused of complicity in the atrocities of the House of Saud).

The resemblance cannot be an accident.  It is not an accident.  Newcastle United is now, factually if not legally, a Saudi state concern.  As well as being a football club, we are – through PIF’s 80% shareholding – a vehicle for the promotion of Saudi state interests.  Depending on one’s views of Saudi Arabia, those “interests” may either be described as a distasteful sports-washing exercise, or a legitimate pursuit of national prestige (if you want to know where I personally stand, you may feel free to read my other TF articles on Saudi ownership here, and here).  Either way, it is about Saudi Arabia seeking respectability and legitimacy on the international stage, via the acquisition and administration of a specific asset – in this case, our beloved club.

Does the adoption of a kit which looks like the Saudi national kit – only seven months post-takeover – further the Saudis’ objectives?  To my mind, the answer is no.  The Saudi pursuit of respectability and legitimacy via the mechanism of Newcastle United is most likely to be furthered by subtle, sensible means.  This means three things: footballing success, clever branding, and corporate citizenship.

As to the football, though Dan Burn and Matt Targett may not see themselves as the foot-soldiers of MBS, this is – in part – what they are.  Our progression under Eddie Howe, and the obvious bond between players, managers and fans, is – in addition to being a beautiful thing in and of itself – the bread and butter of the Saudi sports-washing / prestige (delete to suit your personal viewpoint) operation.

As to branding, perhaps we will see Newcastle United being stylised as the “Club of the North”, or will see proper treatment of the club’s storied past, via the co-opting of Messrs Shearer and Keegan.  My view is that there was a genuine branding opportunity with this particular kit – it would have been far more intelligent, and far-sighted, to have gone with a yellow, Brazil-style away kit, to capitalise on the popularity of Bruno and Joelinton and maybe, just maybe, begin a process of turning Newcastle United into a recognised destination for young, talented Brazilians.  One suspects that, if the route from Rio to Ryton, from the Copacabana to Cullercoats, were to become a well-trodden one, there would be a flicker of a smile in the corridors of power in Riyadh.

Corporate citizenship is more complicated, and takes longer.  Essentially, the attainment of respectability most likely entails the club, with Saudi money behind it, being seen to provide a public benefit.  While the increased visibility of the women’s team and the support for the Foundation is a part of this, down the line we may see the involvement of the club (or the owners, directly) in regenerating a region that has been the subject of under-investment and condescension going back decades.  Manchester City / Abu Dhabi, in a deprived part of east Manchester, is the blueprint – as my TF colleague Emma Thompson has written previously.

If the Saudis can do these three things – build a successful footballing operation, grow an iconic global brand, and become an engaged corporate citizen – they will succeed on their own terms and Newcastle United will have furthered their objectives.  The key point is that the success of all these metrics is measured by the extent to which the source of the funds has actually become invisible.  Put differently, sports-washing has only succeeded once the stain has come out completely.

It is hard to see how the adoption of this kit helps with any of that.

I have seen suggestions that this is about growing our fanbase in Saudi Arabia.  While we may have acquired some new Saudi supporters, this cannot be a core objective for our owners.  The Middle East – including Saudi Arabia – is not new to Premier League football.  There are people who have supported Manchester United or Liverpool for 20 or 30 years, and are now passing their support on to their children.  They are not going to change their allegiance now, with or without some snazzy green trim being applied to a Castore kit.

This notion – that football supporters outside of the traditional hotbeds of Europe and South America – are all there for the taking, and do not already have their loyalties and preferences – is the same kind of naïve and rather old-fashioned thinking that would have been fatal to the European Super League, if it had got off the ground.  Of course, this does not mean that we cannot acquire some new supporters, if we become successful.  However, these new supporters need not be in Saudi Arabia.  And, in any case, we are a long way from being successful enough to use success itself as a means of attracting support (in Saudi Arabia or anywhere else).  We are a mid-table side, have won no major domestic honours in 67 years, and have been relegated twice in the past decade and a half.

PSG shirts can now be spotted in London (Ed: and Jesmond Dene), even outside the French exclave of South Kensington, which proves that with success, you can acquire new fans.  But they’re winning their domestic league at a canter, are in the Champions League every season, and have Neymar and Kylian Mbappe – while we’re still celebrating narrow home wins as if they’re Cup finals, and are deliriously happy that Emil Krafth has become slightly less error-prone.  One of these things is not like the other.

If anything, the adoption of this shirt (which, by the way, won’t look great on everyone – note to Castore: vertical stripes and dark colours are more flattering to those of us who have accepted we will never play on the hallowed turf ourselves) appears to be a rather childish, knee-jerk response, from our Saudi hierarchy, to the criticism which has been coming their way in the media, and the manoeuvrings of other Premier League clubs.  Tempting though this may be to the Saudis, it is immature, irresponsible and self-defeating: to develop the metaphor used before, if sports-washing is the goal, then the accentuation of the stain surely cannot be seen as helpful.

I’m conscious that I’ve written 1200 words about, basically, a football kit – and not even one we’re likely to wear very often.  Frivolity for which I can only apologise, at the same time as thanking you for reading this far.

So what next for Newcastle United?  What next for this vehicle onto which a brutal, oil-rich dictatorship projects its hopes and dreams, and through which it wishes to show its best self to – or hide its worst excesses from – the world?  Arsenal on Monday night.  A positive performance, full-blooded commitment, and hopefully a good result before a boisterous home crowd and a magnificent flag display.

That will achieve far more for the Saudi project than this shirt ever could.  And rightly so.  We’re a football club too, after all.

YOUSEF HATEM – @yousef_1892