What pieces of the jigsaw need to be in place for the PIF/Reuben/Staveley takeover to go ahead? Three, as so often, is the magic number.
Firstly, the Premier League has to be prepared to allow it to go ahead. Secondly, the club needs to succeed in persuading the Premier League to allow it go ahead – which means succeeding in its arbitration. Thirdly, if the club is successful, PIF/Reuben/Staveley (and Ashley) will need to still have the appetite for the deal.
— True Faith: Newcastle United Fanzine and Podcast (@tfNUFC) February 10, 2021
Is the Premier League prepared to allow this deal to go ahead?
There are some who think that the PL will block this deal at all costs – and there are three main arguments: (i) that the top clubs will refuse to allow investment which challenges their dominance; (ii) that there is an agenda against Newcastle (or the wider North East) from the powers that be, based in London; and/or (iii) that the PL is a puppet of Qatar.
As to (i) and (ii), it is true that the so-called “big clubs” often shout the loudest (Project Big Picture being the latest wheeze) and that our region tends to receive unfair, unequal treatment from anyone in London wearing a suit. It is also true that the takeover has stalled. However, just because these things are all true, it does not make them causally linked. Unless there is substantiation, there is merely conspiracy theory.
As to (iii), it is also true that the PL receives a lot of money from Qatar. However, the PL is essentially a honeypot, which has largely succeeded by never being too sniffy about who the tycoons and money-men are, or where they come from. For all the talk of geopolitics, Saudi v Qatar is a minor parochial rivalry given the PL’s status as a safe haven for global capital, not all of it clean. I do not subscribe to the view that the PL would keep the Saudis out, simply to keep the Qataris happy. The PL and Qatar only have a common interest up to a point. The favoured outcome for the PL has always been one in which Saudi cash, and plenty of it, gushes into the league, with concerns about Saudi-backed piracy being minimised in the process.
Will the club win the arbitration?
All we know is that the arbitration has been commenced. We know nothing more than that. As is so often the case, we – the fans – are the last to know anything. Privacy and discretion have their part to play here, but that doesn’t lessen the frustration.
Two things, however, can be said with some degree of confidence. Firstly, that the club has an uphill battle. Secondly, that it may well take a long time.
The reason why the club will has an uphill battle relates to the burden of what the club needs to demonstrate as a matter of law. The club will need to persuade the tribunal that the PL misapplied its own test, and came to a conclusion that was flawed as a result. The arbitrators will not need to come to a view on the merits of the takeover itself, or decide whether they would have acted the same way if they had been in Richard Masters’ shoes. This is a key distinction. We have a situation where: (i) the PL drafted the test itself; (ii) there is no clear precedent as to how the test should be applied; and (iii) the test grants considerable discretion to the PL. The club and its lawyers therefore have a very high threshold to meet, as a matter of law, regardless of how one feels about Masters and his PL cronies.
Arbitration can also be long (as I know from my professional life). It is, essentially, a trial conducted in private. Written arguments take months to be prepared and exchanged. Evidence takes months to be dealt with. My best guess is that the hearing itself may not take place until 2022. It can then take months for the arbitrators themselves to produce the ruling.
— True Faith: Newcastle United Fanzine and Podcast (@tfNUFC) February 7, 2021
Fans may legitimately ask what the point is, if it takes this long (as PIF/Reuben/Staveley may have vanished by then). To answer this, we must return to the question of what the arbitration is and is not about. The arbitrators are not going to answer the question of whether the takeover should go ahead. They will merely answer the question of whether the PL misapplied its test. For the club, this is a fight worth having. Firstly, it may soften up the PL to any future sale (and acts as a reminder to investors that the club is indeed for sale). Secondly, it may assist the club in a subsequent compensation claim against the PL based on having been deprived of the profits of a sale to PIF/Reuben/Staveley. Thirdly, big businesses – like football clubs – tend to fight points of principle.
It is possible that the club and its lawyers could make persuasive arguments, early on in the process, which give the PL cause to worry that they may lose the arbitration, resulting in an early settlement of the dispute without the whole process needing to be followed. However, this is unlikely – firstly, because (as mentioned above) the club has a heavy legal burden to bear; and, secondly, because settlements tend to happen when there is a compromise which suits both sides. Such a compromise is not immediately apparent here – there is no obvious middle ground.
Will PIF/Reuben/Staveley still be in the picture by then?
It seems unlikely – indeed the ship may already have sailed. The funds which were set aside for the purchase may already have been committed to other ventures, and that risk increases by the day. While the interest last year was no doubt genuine, there was never any envelope filled with cash, hidden under a mattress in Riyadh and marked “For use in NUFC takeover only”.
They have probably moved on, and so should we.