Don’t believe it. Don’t want it.
Flicking through social media this past week, there was a story ran by the Chronicle and Shields Gazette which brought to my attention a claim (from a seemingly random journalist) that Saudi investors are interested in buying Newcastle United. Finally, after years of bleating on about things I am not qualified to talk about, I can write a Newcastle article on a subject I am qualified to write about.
Quite frankly, any takeover talk that originates from the usual sources are simply BS. I am writing this to save others the hassle in the future of being reeled in or having their hopes raised by any such rumour of an Arabian prince taking over at Newcastle United.
Having just completed an MA dissertation on Saudi Arabia, improved my Arabic, preparing a PHD on Saudi genealogy and created my own Saudi family tree software – you can take my word on Saudi investment in football teams. In short, don’t believe it, and most importantly, don’t want it.
There is no doubt that some fans will look at teams such as Manchester City and PSG, who have benefited enormously from investment that derives from the Arabian Peninsula and think “why can’t that be us?” Of course, winning trophies is what football is all about, and especially at Newcastle United there will be some fans who would sacrifice everything for one glorious day at Wembley in May.
It is important to understand that Gulf investment in football is not about making money, a phrase that would no doubt make the hairs on Mike Ashley’s back stand up. Simply put, in the case of Qatar and UAE, money from oil and gas is used as a tool to promote the self-perceived national identity of gulf states. In the instance of Manchester City and PSG, they are used as pawns by the owners to promote their respective countries to western audiences in the exact way they want you to view them.
As nations who want to connect with the community, like what Manchester City are doing in the greater Manchester area, as well as gaining international recognition like what we see in Paris, the two gulf takeovers have so far proved a massive success. The connections the Qataris have established in France have been integral in maintaining relationships during their non-violent war with the Saudis and UAE.
The acquisition of football clubs is politics via different means, in academia we refer to it as soft power. Football is the most popular game on earth and if you get it right, then it is an easy way to deflect negative stories away from human rights and workers towards how great your football team is. When you think of Sheik Mansour, you picture a happy looking fellow wearing a suit at that one Man City game don’t you? In essence, that is how it is intended to work.
So surely the Saudis are looking at the success of Qatar and UAE in this area and thinking, ‘hey, that might work for us’…
Since early 2015, the Saudis too have been placing greater investment in many sports from WWE, to football, to even electronic F1. However, reports they are interested in Newcastle United, or any Premier League club for that matter, are simply not true.
At the present moment, the only Saudi ownership in the UK is at Sheffield United in which Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad acquired a 50% stake in the club. However, despite Sheffield United’s promising performances on the pitch, bin Musa’ad’s ownership has been plagued with problems, which culminated over the summer in a court case between himself and other owner Kevin McCabe.
Sure enough, any other potential football club owner, which would almost certainly be a fellow Al Saud (from the royal family) rather than a non-family private investor, would likely look at the experience of bin Musa’ad and be put off immediately.
As mentioned, the reason why the Qataris and the Emiratis have focused on western Europe is because of the strong football culture that exists there. They want to tap into large demographics because in cities like Manchester and Paris, if you give their football team success, then they will look favorably on you in other areas of life. Football in these cities is everything. Many males in Paris, one of the most strategically importance cities in the world, now look favorably on Qatar.
The Emiratis or the Qataris may not be making money, but it is one of the best investments you can make.
Yet the Saudis are the opposite. The most recent Saudi acquisition of a football team is in Egypt, in which Turki Al-Sheikh, who is essentially the country’s sports minister, bought a lowly Egyptian team and changed them to Pyramids FC. A key difference being, you could never get away with that in Western Europe.
For the Saudis, buying a club like Newcastle United, where every single thing is scrutinised with a fine toothcomb, is the exact opposite of what they want. Saudis want to be discreet, they don’t want the attention, they don’t want westerners looking into the affairs. They simply don’t want the mass circus that comes with owning a Premier League football club, and Newcastle United is the finest example of that.
The key point here is that I saw many Newcastle fans on social media reacting positively to reports the Saudis may take over from Mike Ashley. This is where a key problem lies. If you oppose Mike Ashley on moral grounds, then it is important to understand that his treatment of workers at Sports Direct Shirebrook resembles the plot of the film Daddy Day Care when you compare it to the record of the Saudis in just about every basic human right you can think of.
Even if you are unaware of current affairs in the Gulf, imagine Mike Ashley but bigger, badder and giving less of a damn.
Getting rid of Mike Ashley shouldn’t be about replacing him with a billionaire Arab owner or someone who is going to spend lots of cash to take Newcastle back to the Champions League. It should be about a new owner who is the exact opposite of Mike Ashley. An owner with ethics, morals and honesty, just as much as ambition and passion for the team..
For the moment anyway, I would urge all fans to ignore the takeover rumours because they simply won’t be true. They are used by Keith Bishop’s KBA as a mechanism to quell fan unrest in the short-term. Simple as that.
When it comes to the Saudis though, don’t believe it. Most importantly, don’t want it.
You can follow the author on Twitter @JonathanComyn