The public face of the consortium which last year agreed a deal to buy Newcastle United from Mike Ashley has spoken to ITV News (Tyne Tees). Amanda Staveley, of PCP, who had agreed to purchase 10% of Newcastle United, with the Reuben Bros taking a further 10% and the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, taking the remainder set out her view of the forthcoming arbitration with the Premier League.

You can see the full interview – click here

Staveley informed ITV that she had no direct role with the arbitration which is between Newcastle United (or Mike Ashley who agreed to sell the club and remains committed to resurrecting the deal). However, she insisted that those acting for the consortium to purchase United had complied with every request from the PL side to provide the information they requested and in good time. A process which was expected to take 6-weeks was extended to 17 weeks until the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia decided to withdraw their offer.

It is thought the PL were of the view there was no separation between the Public Investment Fund and the Saudi Arabian state and as a result there was a suggestion head of state, Prince Mohammed Bin Salman may have been required to submit to the Owners & Directors Test.

That would appear to be a wholly unacceptable position for the Saudi government and royal family and a somewhat unique request in terms of PIF’s acquisitions and investments across a range of sectors globally.

It is thought the PL’s position in this regard came after the appointment of Gary Hoffman, former Chief Executive of Northern Rock, who was appointed to the Premier League as Chairman in June 2020.

This fanzine received information last year which suggested that the Premier League’s tactic in blocking the takeover was not to outright refuse but to delay making a decision. The offer of arbitration to assess the PL’s position was refused and it is not difficult to understand how unacceptable it was for the Saudis that their head of their royal family should be subject to a legal questioning or indeed at all relevant.

Within the interview Staveley committed to investment in players, St James’ Park, the Academy but also in the wider North East region. Staveley did not elaborate on what that wider investment might be or its scale.

There have previously been contradictory messages in the local media which suggested there may not be Man City-levels of investment as imagined by supporters.

Staveley has also indicated that there are no other parties interested in buying Newcastle United.

Staveley has also detailed that concerns regarding human rights issues in Saudi Arabia formed no part of the Premier League’s considerations within the Owners & Directors Test.

Staveley has also once again called for the Premier League to agree to the arbitration between Newcastle United and the Premier League to be held in public.

This has been joined by the Newcastle United Supporters Trust, the Rt Hon member for Newcastle Central MP, Chi Onwurah and other NE MPs who have written to the Sec of State for DCMS, the Rt Hon Oliver Dowden MP to request that he too calls for the arbitration to be held in public.

The club itself made the same call and this was echoed by counsel, Nick De Marco QC who is acting for Newcastle United in the arbitration.

There are a number of points to draw from the latest interview:

  • the buying and selling sides are wholly aligned in believing the Premier League has obstructed the sale of Newcastle United FC
  • Staveley is insistent the buying side has complied with the Premier League’s processes in regards to the Owners & Directors Test
  • previously both sides have hinted at external parties acting to prevent the takeover, namely members of the so-called Big 6 clubs who many believe are operating a cartel like grip on the Premier League and preventing significant investment into a club to suffocate competition. Their actions (Operation Big Picture) to assume powers within the PL to approve or reject takeovers of rival clubs can be reasonably considered to betray their motives (though this might not be proven in law). It is a fact that beIN, owned by the Qatari state wrote to the Premier League to express opposition to the deal. Qatar and Saudi Arabia currently have poor diplomatic ties but it is believed during the takeover process of 2020, the Qataris orchestrated black propaganda against the deal.
  • human rights is completely outside the Premier League’s considerations within the Owners & Directors Test
  • there remains an appetite to buy Newcastle United FC
  • Ashley is at liberty to sell United to another party so there is no exclusivity deal in operation now. However no party appears to exist according to Staveley who may have an interest in buying Newcastle United.

We also need to consider some other questions amidst several other actions being undertaken in regards to making the arbitration public:

  • the UK government has no power to instruct the arbitration to be held in public (even if it agrees that is the correct thing to do and that is currently unknown)
  • given stated in investment, the UK government should have an interest and position on how the arbitration is conducted given previous statements from the PM and SoS regards the failed European Super League and wider concerns regards the governance of English football
  • given the potential wider investment in the NE region via Public Investment Fund, the UK government should have a wider interest in the takeover from an economic development perspective per se but also as part of their much vaunted Levelling Up agenda to bring greater economic prosperity to disadvantaged regions. The NE is the poorest region in England measured by a number of socio-economic indicators
  • it remains wholly at the discretion of the Premier League to agree or otherwise to the arbitration to be held in public
  • buying and selling parties clearly believe there is information to be disclosed within the arbitration which will be at least embarrassing to the Premier League and potentially damaging to its reputation
  • the Premier League’s refusal to engage or answer questions on their position regards holding the arbitration in public feeds public perception of the vested interests of PL clubs polluting the takeover process and exacerbated by beIN, (Qatar) who hold the TV rights for the broadcasting rights in the Middle East and North Africa regions and are considerable funders of the Premier League. Their influence and relationships with the Premier League will be naturally considerable.
  • the Premier League’s insistence that the arbitration should be held in secret should attract the scrutiny of the Fan led review into football governance.

Thus far, the UK government has failed to set out its position regards the arbitration being held in public. Additionally, the Premier League has declined to respond to press enquiries regards the arbitration being in public or otherwise.

Then we return to the core purpose of the arbitration, namely, did the Premier League conduct the Owners & Directors Test in the correct manner. Did they abide by their own rules?

Amanda Staveley is adamant that those representing the consortium complied with every request made to them.

We also need understand whether the PL’s position on the question of separation  between PIF and the Saudi state is a correct one or not. We all have an opinion on that, largely admittedly influenced by our desire to see the takeover completed. That will be a question of legal consideration which very few of us understand because we aren’t eminent members of the judiciary such as those on the three-man panel.

Staveley’s public appearances this week have confirmed a takeover by the consortium remains possible. That has been a welcome shred of light amidst a lot of noise.

The forthcoming arbitration will decide that. It is ludicrous that it should be held in secrecy. The Premier League appear unlikely to roll over now whilst Ashley has been sabre rattling as the confidence he has in his case.

We can do little more than wait and see. Everything else is noise.

Keep On, Keepin’ On …