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Newcastle United Takeover – Time to look again at what was in bidders statement when it collapsed

7 days ago
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It was July 2020 when fans got a not so nice Newcastle United takeover surprise.

Those early months of lockdown and other virus restrictions had been made a little easier to bear, due to the imminent departure of Mike Ashley and his replacement by new ambitious owners.

It wasn’t great to be waiting and waiting but so long as there was the correct final result, all would be good in the world (give or take the odd pandemic).

Then after some 17 weeks of waiting for the Premier League to confirm a Newcastle United takeover, we got this:

Statement by PIF, PCP Capital Partners & Reuben Brothers (“the Investment Group”) on Ending Their Bid for Newcastle United FC – 30 July 2020:

July 30 2020 – An investment group (the “Investment Group”) led by majority investor the Public Investment Fund; PCP Capital Partners; and RB Sports & Media, announced today that it has formally withdrawn its interest in pursuing the acquisition of Newcastle United Limited and Newcastle United Football Club Limited.

The Investment Group issued the following statement:

With a deep appreciation for the Newcastle community and the significance of its football club, we have come to the decision to withdraw our interest in acquiring Newcastle United Football Club.

We do so with regret, as we were excited and fully committed to invest in the great city of Newcastle and believe we could have returned the Club to the position of its history, tradition and fans’ merit.

Unfortunately, the prolonged process under the current circumstances coupled with global uncertainty has rendered the potential investment no longer commercially viable.

To that end, we feel a responsibility to the fans to explain the lack of alternatives from an investment perspective.

As an autonomous and purely commercial investor, our focus was on building long-term value for the Club, its fans and the community as we remained committed to collaboration, practicality and proactivity through a difficult period of global uncertainty and significant challenges for the fans and the Club.

Ultimately, during the unforeseeably prolonged process, the commercial agreement between the Investment Group and the Club’s owners expired and our investment thesis could not be sustained, particularly with no clarity as to the circumstances under which the next season will start and the new norms that will arise for matches, training and other activities.

As often occurs with proposed investments in uncertain periods, time itself became an enemy of the transaction, particularly during this difficult phase marked by the many real challenges facing us all from Covid-19.

We feel great compassion for the Newcastle United fans with whom we shared a great commitment to help Newcastle United harness its tremendous potential and build upon its impressive and historic legacy while working closely with the local community.

We would like to say that we truly appreciated your incredible expressions of support and your patience throughout this process. We are sorry it is not to be.

We wish the team and everyone associated with it much good luck and success.’

They say that truth is the first casualty of war and whilst I wouldn’t say the truth has been totally killed off during the recent Newcastle United takeover talk and all the propaganda that has gone with it, there have certainly been any number of blows taken in terms of sticking to facts.

Looking back at that joint statement 12 months ago from PIF, PCP Capital Partners and the Reuben Brothers, maybe the most interesting sentence in the statement is:

Unfortunately, the prolonged process under the current circumstances coupled with global uncertainty has rendered the potential investment no longer commercially viable.’

Which is then later followed by:

‘Ultimately, during the unforeseeably prolonged process, the commercial agreement between the Investment Group and the Club’s owners expired and our investment thesis could not be sustained, particularly with no clarity as to the circumstances under which the next season will start and the new norms that will arise for matches, training and other activities.’

So no explicit full on going for the jugular blaming it all on the Premier League, just mentioning the ‘unforeseeably’ prolonged process. I wonder why that is / was?

Why wasn’t it bluntly put, if it was indeed just the Premier League acting unfairly and beyond their terms of reference?

What possible reason could there be for not spelling out exactly who and what they thought was to blame, if it was all about the Premier League acting out of line?

Why then go to the trouble of constructing this alternative storyline / narrative that the Newcastle United takeover was ‘no longer commercially viable’…

Even if the idea was to make money (nothing wrong with that) as well as making the club successful on and off the pitch, it seems a little strange to put that as a / the key reason for pulling out, it it wasn’t?

Plus of course we come to the real elephant in the room.

It wasn’t the Premier League saying the consortium couldn’t take over Newcastle United, instead it was the consortium withdrawing before a decision had been made.

When you consider that we are talking about very rich people on both sides (potential buyers and seller) who count their wealth in billions, you know for sure that those who wanted the Newcastle United takeover to happen, would have had the very best legal team(s) that money can buy.

So despite all of that, we never even got to the point of the Premier League considering the owners and directors test.

I am certainly not saying that the Premier League acted perfectly but why then if they (Premier League) were acting in a way that did compromise themselves, why didn’t the legal team representing those who wanted the takeover to go ahead, call them out on it?

There were clearly legal arguments taking place as to how this owner and director test should be carried out and indeed who it should be carried out on BUT if the pro-takeover legal arguments did totally stand up, why didn’t they press the button and put the ball in the court of the Premier League?

More to the point, with the recent resurrection of the Newcastle United takeover in the headlines, as Mike Ashley has made legal moves of arbitration and anti-competition claims, what has actually changed and more to the point, why / how would there be a different outcome this time?

If arbitration and / or anti-competition legal moves were a winning formula, why didn’t they happen a year ago?

It is all good clean fun whipping Newcastle United fans up into a frenzy which results in them throwing abuse and all kinds of accusations at the Premier League and individuals who are at the forefront of it, BUT that does not equate to having overwhelming legal arguments.

Overwhelming legal arguments surely wouldn’t need this call to arms of Newcastle fans. It isn’t a popularity contest, legal arguments aren’t won by public opinion / voting.

I want a Newcastle United takeover to go ahead as much as any other fan AND it doesn’t mean that you are against a takeover, just because you point out things that have happened and that have been said, which don’t make any sense, or have any legal / realistic basis or substance.

The Premier League is a private organisation comprising of 20 members / shareholders (the 20 clubs in the PL at any one time) and the big issue is whether the potential new owners pass the criteria laid down by those 20 clubs / shareholders, what does it say in the PL rules and how should those rules be applied.

I’m also obviously not against transparency but to me, Mike Ashley and the potential new owners making such a big thing of this (transparency issues) appears to be more about hopefully putting things in the public domain that might embarrass the Premier League and certain individuals, rather than transparency somehow making the difference between winning and losing a legal argument.

The other big elephant in the room of course, is why the sale of Newcastle United has to be to the Saudis and not another potential new owner? The vast majority of other major clubs have been sold (some two or three times or more!) during these 13 years or so Mike Ashley has supposedly been trying to sell Newcastle.

If it is because the Saudis are offering way more than the club is worth, how does that fit in with their purely commercial basis for wanting to take control of Newcastle United? Why would you then pay more than what a business is really worth? Are there other conditions and / or ongoing relationships between prospective new owners and Mike Ashley?

It is always the case with Newcastle United, more questions than answers.

Whether the answer / outcome on the Newcastle United takeover front in 2021 is any easier to swallow / accept than what happened in 2020, remains to be seen.

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