Contrary to popular belief, the problem with Newcastle United fans has never been a surplus of expectation. You’ve only got to witness the current outpourings of adulation over the absurdly unexpected sight of competent and professional football players playing football competently and professionally to appreciate that. The same applies to last weekend’s lengthy interview with Amanda Staveley and Mehrdad Ghoudossi in The Athletic. After 14 years of silence punctuated only by the occasional bizarre club statement or Sky Sports interview, the merest attempt to communicate has been greeted with overwhelming and largely unquestioning enthusiasm. Understandably so.

And there’s plenty to be enthusiastic about in this first post-takeover interview, not least the headline-grabbing commitment to expand St James’ Park rather than moving to a new stadium. With so many changes ahead, many of which will no doubt threaten existing emotional ties with the club, this was a very welcome acknowledgement of the importance of history and place, of the physical and emotional belonging that so-called “legacy” football fandom entails. Whether the promise to expand towards 65,000 can be delivered, given the practical constraints, remains to be seen, but the symbolism of the statement remains significant.

Nor was this the only ambitious promise in an article that took all of 46 words to get round to mentioning “trophies”. Repeating a statement Staveley made on takeover day, the overt ambition remains to become a club equivalent to Liverpool, Man City, Man Utd, or Chelsea in the space of five years (well, maybe not Chelsea…).

A new sporting director (aka Dan Ashworth) will transform all aspects of the playing side of the club; one of a number of “incredible candidates” for CEO will revolutionise the commercial side; a purpose-built, world-leading training complex will be built within three years on an as yet unspecified new site; the women’s team will become fully professional and challenge for honours alongside the men’s team; the summer transfer window will see further very substantial expenditure, limited only by FFP rules; ex-players will become involved as club ambassadors; and the wider community will benefit from further investment from the club…

And breathe. A veritable footballing Shangri-la awaits.

Beyond the broad ambition, there was some interesting substance and detail too, especially on the business side. There was a strong hint, for example, that the new CEO will not come from within the Premier League and perhaps not from football at all. The emphasis will be very much on an approach to anticipate and take advantage of what is bound to be a rapidly changing external environment. At the same time, there was an explicit (and welcome) assertion that the business model does not rely on related party transactions.

Lets not kid ourselves, though. For the most part, this was an unashamed puff piece for the golden couple, “partners, in family and business”, as a line scarcely out of place in Hello magazine puts it (or is that Mark Darcy’s father in Bridget Jones?).Cue much breathless gushing over the long list of work completed, ongoing, and yet to come, all undertaken by our positively heroic dynamic duo. For all the talk of process and careful building, an awful lot seems to have been staked on the personal efforts and decision-making of two individuals with no prior experience of the business, the very opposite of the model that they claim to be following. We’re fortunate indeed that their tireless work and mainly good judgement has paid off so far.

In fairness, even the most cold-hearted cynic has to acknowledge the genuine commitment and passion Staveley and Ghodoussi have for the club; these are no soulless asset-managers. In particular, Staveley’s obvious affection for the players, and especially “Kieran” (no need for surnames), shines through, reinforced by the recent trip to Saudi. Every comment is couched in an enthusiastic and inclusive “we”, even an observation about the fitness of the players that immediately endears Staveley to all of us who lived through the previous regime. Eddie Howe, too, has clearly made a remarkable impression on the pair through his own professionalism and work ethic, so much so that the whole piece is led by Ghodoussi’s desire for Howe to become “the next Alex Ferguson”.

Perhaps they doth protest too much. One of the more curious sections of the interview is devoted to a lengthy defence of the appointment process that whittled managerial candidates down to the first (Emery) and second(Howe) choices, a defence that raises rather more questions than it answers. There was apparently a clearly agreed set of criteria, although it’s not apparent how they could have yielded two candidates with such divergent CVs. Howe was apparently “ahead on points” and the first choice of the chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan, but still ended up as the bridesmaid in a very public jilting. Alas, we’ll never know what Al-Rumayyan really thinks about that, or about anything else for that matter.

Throughout the interview there are opportunities of this kind to press and clarify but very few are taken. Why were they so unprepared for the takeover when they had spent four years pushing for it?Is the intention to do without related party transactions really viable, especially given the repeated reference to Manchester City as their model? Is giving to a food bank really the right thing to do for a group of billionaires with considerable influence in the political party that has made those same banks necessary? What exactly does Jamie Reuben actually do?

One area that is probed are the financial arrangements that PCP entered into in order to make the acquisition and the loan from Ashley that has been widely reported.A promise is made to issue a statement “correcting the record”, and that statement is duly quoted in full, but it amounts to the vaguest of statements about corporate financing and answers very little. No comment is made on the insight, or lack of it, provided.

And then, inevitably, there is the S-word. A link to the coverage of Saudi human rights issues in The Athletic is provided, together with acknowledgement of the conflicting responses of fans to Staveley and Ghodoussi’s Saudi paymasters. But, when it comes, the direct accusation of sports-washing refers bizarrely only to the announcement that the club will pay the living wage, a suggestion which is easily batted away. How could it not be when it is so manifestly and, on its own terms, the right thing to do?

There is no attempt to challenge the description of PIF as “good partners”, nor Ghoudossi’s naive characterisation of Saudi citizenry as a young population eager to get more involved in exercise and golf. The convenient fiction of separation also remains entirely unquestioned. Muhammed bin Salman is not mentioned once in more than 5,000 words, nor Jamal Khashoggi, nor the continuing bloodshed in Yemen. An opportunity for the pair to at least acknowledge the existence of human rights violations and argue the case for gradual change is missed. Instead, the negative aspects of Saudi involvement are simply “not something we concerned ourselves with”. Oh dear.

Irrelevant? Old news? Unfair? That’s how sports-washing works. Whether we’re motivated by moral concerns or pure self-interest to protect the transformation that Staveley and Ghoudossi embody maybe it’s time we raised the expectations we have of our owners and of ourselves. Or to put it another way, five days is a long time in the geopolitics of football ownership. We’d do well to reflect on that.

Matthew Philpotts @mjp19731