The latest news mooting the kind of takeover many within Newcastle United’s support have longed for has been understandably met with cynicism. Two or three years ago had this news broke as it has this last weekend, then I have no doubt Tyneside and beyond would have gone completely Tonto.

Now it’s different. This is the second Amanda Staveley takeover tale to receive carpet-bombing media coverage and those two news splashes bookend takeovers mooted by BZG and Peter Kenyon. Those are the ones we know about. There have been nods and winks about various Chinese, US, Italian, Turkish, Mexican and goodness knows who else in the frame to buy Newcastle United. 

The response amongst supporters is almost to deny it will happen and refuse to believe it almost as a defence mechanism against being horribly let down yet again. The defensive cynicism is entirely rational.

There have been various reports, some more reliable than others that claim that Sheikh Mansour was interested in taking United off Ashley’s hands before he moved to Manchester City and the rest is history. Some have alleged Ashley was hungover with Dennis Wise in Dubai and didn’t make a meeting arranged with Mansour’s people. Others have claimed Ashley has been rude to them in negotiations and there aren’t many credible people who will provide a character reference for Mike Ashley. We know all of this.

This latest news splash, which cynics point to as coming in the last week of the transfer window with no permanent deals agreed, is however different to how the failed BZG bid came into the public domain. Then BZG was announced via The S*n with several, shall we say, unconventional (ahem) people in the Middle East with tenuous links to the club cheer-leading that potential takeover. This time a far more credible source for news, the Wall St Journal has led the way.

 I think it’s fair to say that one of the world’s foremost news outlets doesn’t need to debase itself to get clicks on its website from careworn Geordies looking for some Black & White joy in their lives.

The article that has caused all the fuss is here:

Various follow up pieces have drawn from that piece including The Financial Times – click here and the Telegraph click here

Others have followed but their aims have largely not been to provide any additional information but rather to regurgitate the WSJ’s original piece and pad that out with stuff you already know. 

The detail appears to be the Saudi Arabian Sovereign Wealth Fund will own the majority of the club following any takeover with the Reuben Brothers and Staveley’s PCP holding the remaining stake. I expect Staveley would be installed as some kind of Club President with executives below her running the club day to day etc. I expect the likes of Charnley would be handed his arse. I’d worry if he wasn’t.

If this were to come off, it wouldn’t represent just a massive step change for Newcastle United it would likely have huge implications for the Newcastle City region too.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Here are my questions:

Why has this gone public now?

We know Ashley loathes business being conducted in the glare of publicity and it is unlikely this has been leaked to the WSJ by his side. I seriously doubt that anyone of Ashley’s flunkies at SJP has had any knowledge of this – their stock answer of nothing happening flies in the face of several reports showing talks have been underway for months. They are unable to provide any other response.

A potential explanation for this coming into the public domain is to provide some impetus to move forward more quickly. Whether the potential buyers have become frustrated with Ashley’s conduct in negotiations is anyone’s guess but it wouldn’t take a massive leap to imagine Ashley attempting to bring more bidders  into play to drive up the price and his profit. Similarly (as we’ve heard on several occasions) Ashley may be placing onerous terms on buyers in terms of advertising around United as well as merchandising. A cursory glance at the never-ending litigation between Ashley and Rangers FC demonstrates the value he places on this but I hasten to add this is my own speculation.

Even the WSJ has been briefed by its sources that the deal could happen in days or in weeks or not at all. All bases covered there then. Seriously though if any deal is at such a delicate point it is curious why a move should be made to jeopardise it given Ashley’s known phobia of the media circus.

Can we take this seriously?

In my opinion – not yet. There are serious, respected analysts of the business of football who snort with derision at the mention of Amanda Staveley. Some others with little time for her run Liverpool FC where the North Yorkshire lass previously had a go at buying them. Previously, claims that Staveley had the Reuben Bros on board were proven to be incorrect so until this has been checked out, I’ll be keeping my cans unopened. Likewise there has been no confirmation from the Saudis this is a real deal. With United playing its Business As Usual line then so far someone with some credibility admittedly has tipped off some US journalists on a respected newspaper and there is little else – no-one really draws any conclusions from the establishment of a few shell companies. That is largely meaningless.

Usually, at this stage of the season, I’d say a sale is not likely because United’s PL status is normally in question. Somehow Bruce has managed to blag his way to 30pts playing mind-numbing football and with 15 PL games remaining it is likely enough will be done to keep the club on the TV gravy train next season. Our PL status or doubts about it shouldn’t be a barrier to buying Newcastle United right now in January 2020.

What is Ashley up to?

Well, naturally, it’s the transfer window, there is a takeover rumour and our glorious leader has fucked off abroad for something more important than running his football club or to clean up over 100 millions selling it. There was a choreographed meeting with Bruce to burnish the Scenty Bottle Shill’s reputation and then he has exited stage left after a weird appearance at the Rochdale game. Standard from Fatty. But grudgingly, you have to accept he knows what he’s doing. He’ll be looking after his own interests and want to get as much from any sale as possible. 18 months ago, when Amanda Staveley first took a seat in the posh bit in The Milburn for the Liverpool game and witnessed Joselu’s never to be forgotten shinner against the Mighty Reds, we hear the offer for United was 200 millions. That has now moved to 340 millions so the obese mess who has ruined our football lives for too long would appear to have been justified in chasing Staveley when she first came calling. Whether Ashley is holding the deal up by constantly moving the goal-posts on terms – merchandise and advertising etc remains to be seen, we don’t know but there has to be a reason for whosoever to start whispering into journos’ ears and people like you and I moving from our slumbers too scared to hope change might be coming but yearning for it all the same.

Certainly in terms of how the club is doing business, it would appear to want to avoid financial commitments. This window has seen some business achieved but two players have come in on loan and there are no permanent transfers looking anywhere near likely. Willems came in on loan in the summer and there are legitimate questions about how accurate the 40 millions lashed on Joelinton really is and well, how it was financed. There is little action on tying players up and a load heading towards the last knockings of their contracts – no progress appears to be being made in any respect there. The club has been desperate to get punters through the door and make the place look positive though unless I’ve missed it, with long term ST deals coming to an end, we’ve had no gen on prices going forward and the new DDs start next month. 10,000 half STs given away for gratis looks desperate and is completely unsustainable. It looks like a short term fix but why?

Decisions deferred and commitments avoided.

It does look like the club is being prepared for sale. Or those running the show are more incompetent than I calculated.

What are the Saudis up to?

I think the current buzzwords are sports-washing and I’ve heard the unlikeliest of football hacks bandy expressions like geo-political strategy blah-blah-blah around like they have a clue what they are on about. Basically, the Saudis like Abu Dhabi and Qatar are keen on  improving a reputation seriously compromised by medieval social policy, topping troublesome journalists in their Embassies and bombing the fuck out of the Yemen. They are said to be keen on a bit modernising of their image and football is felt to be one way of doing that. Nice. That works for us. 

Various reports have linked the Saudis with Man Utd. Let’s be honest, the Old Trafford club is something of a global behemoth and sits alongside Real Madrid and Barcelona in its international reach. They may have faded grandeur in the post-Ferguson era but retain a morbid fascination for every glory hunting sap from Donegal to Delhi. I wouldn’t doubt the Saudis would prefer to get their hands on the Red Devils in preference to a perennial basket case in Gallowgate. However, Newcastle United would cost around 10% of the purchase price for Man U and I’d expect for that initial amount for the Reds alone you could create something of an international success story on Tyneside with dosh to spare.

We’d also have to further concede that Man U is a national institution in a way that Newcastle United is not. If the Saudis took over at Newcastle United, I seriously doubt there would be any local outcry from a support and city desperate for investment. They would be welcomed not so much with open arms but with an unparalleled euphoria that might not be shared for a club used to being at the top of all of the stories There is the United brand (sic) distinct from what the Saudis might want. When people speak of Man City, it is unquestionably tied to their owners from Abu Dhabi. The Saudis would get that too with Newcastle United. They might not with Man U.

That is not to underestimate the residual value of Newcastle United. Underneath the grime and neglect visited upon it by Mike Ashley there remains a football club of huge potential, ready to burst from its status as sleeping giant to becoming a major international player. The stadium is there, in the middle of a vibrant city and there is still potential for expansion. The support of the club is hideously untapped and the potential enormous. Potential, potential, potential. 

I know I’m singing to the choir here … alternatively, our stupid fucking football club could be being used as a stalking horse for Man Utd. We’ll just have to wait and see about that.

 What happens next?

Well, the WSJ article covered all the bases – hinting it could be days, weeks or never. We need some decent journalism now, not the click jockeys giving it the big bleurgh. The parties have been named specifically and they are from the buying side:

Prince Mohammed bin Salman  (Public Investment Fund)

The Reuben Brothers

Amanda Staveley (PCP)

We need them to confirm their intentions and provide an update of where the deal is at.

The same applies to Mike Ashley – not some nobody on Barrack Road but Ashley himself.

Clearly, the Premier League / FA will have an interest in this and they will need to be notified. We will need to understand where that is at, if anywhere.

Additional detail would be helpful around the lawyers acting for either side, banks and all of that palaver.

We need information on all of that from specialist journalists who know what they are on about rather than those just changing the words around and counting the click counter. Things need to happen otherwise we’ll continue this misery, wondering what the fuck is going on in the shadows. 

But fundamentally, we wait, wait, wait, press refresh on every newsline going and wonder …. If this doesn’t happen now, when the fuck will it?

Keep On, Keepin’ On …

MICHAEL MARTIN