It says something about the state of Newcastle United that supporters were far more exercised about a live stream from the Competition Appeal Tribunal involving St James Holding Limited (Ashley) and the Premier League last week than at any point during the predictably depressing Newcastle United defeat to Wolves.

Social media and thousands of texts, Wats App conversations, not to mention good old-fashioned patter between fans followed the CAT proceedings. We now wait to see if the Premier League has been successful in having the action thrown out.

Let’s be crystal clear however, CAT is mainly (though not exclusively) about Mike Ashley’s wallet rather than Newcastle United. He is moving to protect the purchase price he was offered in March 2020. Nothing else in substantive terms.

It does serve a less tangible purpose however, in making the PL squirm and ramp up calls for the administration of the game to be accountable to an independent regulator. But that won’t get the takeover done.

The saga of the Newcastle United takeover could not provide a better case-study of the need for government regulation if it had set out to make the case itself. We’ll wait to see what the Rt Hon Tracey Crouch eventually comes up with but this week underlined the inadequacy of the status quo. I’ll again thank NUST for the work they put in their representations to Crouch. That was not offered to any other Trust.

I won’t go over old ground and I would refer to my fellow TF contributor Yousef Hatem who in conversation with Alex Hurst gives us clarity on these matters that aren’t always available for those of us largely ignorant of the legal world.

Some positives coming from the CAT case – we have a date of 3/Jan/22 for the formal arbitration to kick off. This is fundamental.

The fundamental point of disagreement between the buyers and sellers with the Premier League is who on the buying side should be submitted to the Owners & Directors Test administered by the Premier League.

We absolutely know that from an ownership perspective, there is no question to answer regarding Amanda Staveley and the Reuben Brothers. The Premier League has no problem with those three parties in the takeover.

The problem, as if you didn’t know, rests exclusively with the Public Investment Fund.

From my understanding of the PIF, Yasir Al-Rumayyan is the governor of PIF. He is also Chairman of Board of the Saudi Aramco. Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is the Chairperson of PIF.

It is my understanding that Yasir Al-Rumayyan was named amongst those submitted by the Public Investment Fund as one to be considered for the Owners & Directors Test. No Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

That will be because PIF has decided he will undertake the duties of director at Newcastle United. He would be the top man. He is who PIF want to put in the chair. Not the Saudi Head of State or anything as nonsensical as that. He is their business lead.

For those interested, Al-Rumayyan is one of the key movers and shakers in Saudi-related business globally. He is a serious big hitter. None bigger really! He is no underling. He plays a critical role in the strategic investment of Saudi wealth globally. A bona-fide Master of the Universe if you will!

A quick look at his Wikipedia page details he is a board member of Saudi Aramco, Uber Technologies Inc., SoftBank Group, Reliance Industries Limited.

If you want to understand more of the scale of Al-Rumayyan’s profile you can start off with a deek of his LinkedIn reference – https://sa.linkedin.com/in/yasiralrumayyan

It isn’t likely he would directly have responsibility for the day to day running of Newcastle United were the takeover ever to be completed. Al-Rumayyan would, ultimately be top man with a team of experts appointed to take the club forward. Probably a bit like PSG and Man City!

Staveley has previously said she would be running the club on a day to day basis post-takeover. Some are sceptical about that. She has zero football experience outside failed takeovers.

Jamie Reuben, relative of the Reuben Bros would likely play a director role too. We have to take all that at face value.

As has been repeated to the point of boredom, PIF have investments across a multiplicity of sectors, worth billions and they are one of the UK’s most valued allies both in terms of national security and also regards to trade.

But with the caveat of underlining that I have not seen any documentation or spoken directly to any of the parties, it would appear the Premier League is not satisfied with the PIF submission that Al-Rumayyan will be the Owner & Director to undertake the PL’s test (despite his lofty status within PIF) and that it should be others connected to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The unmistakable conclusion to be drawn is that the Premier League wishes for the Head of State in Saudi Arabia, namely Prince Mohammed Bin Salman to undertake the Owners & Directors Test. There may be others within the Saudi state the Premier League wishes to have submitted for the test but we don’t know that.

Now, I’m hardly an expert on takeovers, mergers and acquisitions of any size let alone those worth £300m but I’m going to take a punt on it and suggest neither the royal families of Abu Dhabi submitted to this test and I’d find it unlikely if the Qatari mob did either.

So, the question is then … why the Saudis?

Let’s put a few things to one side immediately. The Premier League is not concerned one iota with human rights abuses. Neither is it unduly concerned with the alleged murder of Jamal Khashoggi or the grief of his partner Hatice Cengiz. Sad, harsh or whatever, the Premier League has no concern about any of that.

Neither is the Premier League concerned about the conflict between Saudi Arabia and the Yemen or the deaths of civilians as a result of bombing with ordnance possibly made in the UK by BAE (down the road in Washington if you’re interested – amongst others).

But the PL’s apparent desire to put Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, regardless of what anyone considers about him, is specious and deeply offensive to the KSA.

If the PL is setting itself up to include human rights abuses, TV piracy as part of the Owners & Directors Test then we are into unchartered territory.

There are some questions to ask too about how this takeover has been structured and handled.

The first issue is why it was ever made public and why Amanda Staveley was so keen to develop relationships within the public eye before the takeover was completed.

We know Staveley met with the Chief Executive of Newcastle City Council, was in regular conference with George Caulkin, formerly of The Times and now of The Athletic. In the period between January and March 2020, the media was alive to the big moves underway as the takeover was described as “imminent” and memorably that there “were no red flags”. Remember all that? They were great days. Sighs.

It is a moot point whether the publicity around the takeover and the febrile atmosphere it created in the North East had a negative impact upon the start of a new era at Newcastle United. We’ll never know if this had remained under the radar whether the PL would have been able to complete the takeover quietly and be presented to us and the rest of the world as a fait accompli.

From my perspective, this getting into the public domain, allowed those opposed to the Saudis and indeed not keen on the additional competition to mobilise against the takeover. All of the TV piracy, human rights etc was put into the open before the deal was anywhere near signed off.

Had the PL leaked any of this to anyone, they would have been in breach of their own rules and seriously in the shit. All of the media attention allowed enemies of the takeover to get their ducks in a row and then some.

I’ll say it again there were absolutely no advantages to this receiving the media focus it did.

I think you’d have to have a naiveté of the Little Red Riding Hood variety not to understand where the motivation behind the opposition to the Newcastle United takeover comes from and that is in Doha, Qatar and the epicentre of that is in the offices of beIN, the broadcaster who holds the TV broadcasting rights for the Premier League in the Middle East and North Africa regions (MENA). The Qataris are also owners of seriously financially doped PSG, newly embroidered with Lionel Messi no less.

If they are not pulling Richard Masters & Co’s chain about the Newcastle United takeover then frankly they wouldn’t be doing their job properly. Factor in the diplomatic and economic disputes between Qatar and Saudi then it is easy to pin-point motivation.

Similarly, the likes of Spurs, Arsenal, Liverpool need another competitive club on the scale of Man City, Chelsea, PSG like a hole in the head. Indeed, during the Operation Big Picture proposal to save English football by putting every other one into feudal servitude, the mask slipped on the nature of a cartel with the power-grab of putting changes of ownership at other PL clubs in their hands.

If that wasn’t staggering enough, the subsequent fuck you to 150 years and the fabric of English football with the failed European Super League should have disabused anyone of the shark-like behaviour of these scum-bags.

Few of us really understands the detail around separation between PIF and the Saudi state.

The question I come back to who is how well or otherwise this takeover was structured. How much thought was given to separation and why if Staveley was so heavily involved in the Man City takeover why she and her solicitors, Freshfields, Chris Mort et al hadn’t structured the takeover in such a way where we aren’t even having this conversation.

There are questions for Staveley to answer in how the deal was set-up (regardless if this passes via arbitration) and why confidentiality was so easily lost in the early days of the takeover proceedings ramping up.

Those who subscribe heavily to the conspiracy theories (of which I have a degree of sympathy) might with some credibility suggest that had it not been separation it would have been some other invention. We don’t know. All of the publicity made it easy to mobilise against.

Obviously, none of this taking place in a vacuum.

There is little doubt the UK government wants the takeover to happen. Firstly on account of diplomatic relations as the Saudis are not to be trifled with. But also secondly, if noises about step-change investment in the NE were delivered, we’d be looking at a serious boost to the Tory levelling up bull-shit!

I find it difficult to believe given the close ties between KSA and the UK as well as the army of civil servants, diplomats etc as well as post-Brexit trade considerations that the famously ethics-free Johnson government wouldn’t be all over this attempting to unblock this deal and make it happen.

It seems inconceivable the UK government; FCO, DFID, DTI et al haven’t been falling over themselves to unblock this. It is unlikely we’ll ever know but who knows? Maybe one day. Sighs.

We also have to fact in that the arbitration we’re pinning so much on in January is the reconvened one from early September. That floundered when both sides failed to exchange documents and it was game over for the time being. Were that to be repeated and we are into the realms of farce.

Let’s not also forget the completely stupid appeal Ashley’s side made against the composition of the arbitration panel. These are some of the foremost, experienced legal minds in the country. Ashley’s nonsense set the process back by six months at easy estimate.

But pray to God (we atheists will just pace up and down) this gets sorted in January. If it goes in our favour then hurrah but if it doesn’t then there are a few people I never want to hear from again.

We have to get beyond all of this because it is sucking the life out of Newcastle United.

Keep On, Keepin’ On … 

MICHAEL MARTIN