Newcastle takeover: Winning PR battle just the start as owners worth £700bn seek to emulate Man City success

Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund will take a controlling 80 per cent stake in Newcastle in takeover deal worth £300m; will Magpies follow Man City's trajectory of success following their takeover by the Abu Dhabi United Group in 2008 and will the same levels of cash be injected?

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Image: Newcastle want silverware like Man City but patience will be required

The end of the Mike Ashley era brought celebrations and controversy in equal measure as Newcastle's new owners targeted trophies while rights groups accused them of 'sportswashing' human rights abuses.

Thousands of fans who congregated outside St James' Park will be drawing up fantasy wish-lists after Amanda Staveley - a driving force behind the takeover - vowed to transform the club into Champions League contenders.

"Do we want to win the Premier League within five to 10 years? Yes," Staveley said. "This takeover is hugely transformative. We want to see trophies. But trophies need investment, time, patience and teamwork."

"Of course we have the same ambitions as Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain in terms of trophies. Absolutely, but that will take time."

Amid the genuine euphoria that Ashley's unloved regime was finally over, however, were concerns over the nature of the deal, which was belatedly rubber-stamped by the Premier League after it received legally-binding assurances that Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund was not acting on behalf of the kingdom's government.

The PIF has taken an 80 per cent stake in the club, with Staveley's PCP Capital Partners and RB Sports & Media having handed over £305m in exchange for the keys.

The events of the past 24 hours have naturally drawn comparisons with Sheikh Mansour's takeover of Manchester City in September 2008.

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While PIF's estimated £700bn value dwarves Mansour's reported worth of £23bn, City supporters will know only too well that new owners with huge pockets equates to the playing squad being transformed but not necessarily with instant results.

Who can forget the sight of Robinho signing on deadline day, Mansour's first statement signing after buying the club?

On a crazy summer transfer deadline day that saw City fail in a move for Dimitar Berbatov - who joined rivals United - they did complete a £34m British record transfer deal for Real Madrid's Brazilian forward under the noses of Chelsea.

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Former goalkeeper Shay Given - who played for both Newcastle and Manchester City - sees shades of what began happening when he was at the Etihad Stadium at St James' Park after Public Investment Fund's takeover of the club

Although Financial Fair Play rules will have to be taken into consideration, Newcastle supporters will no doubt be hoping to experience similar fortunes in January and next summer with more hits than misses.

Robinho began impressively, but his City career was ultimately viewed as a disappointment as he was sold to AC Milan in 2010 after a loan spell at Santos.

Then, there was his compatriot Jo, signed for £19.2m but a major flop having only scored six goals in 42 appearances before he embarked on a journeyman career.

Nigel de Jong fared better following his £18m arrival and formed part of the club's first Premier League title-winning team.

Craig Bellamy (£12.4m), Wayne Bridge (£10.4m), Shaun Wright-Phillips (£9m), Shay Given (£7.2m), Pablo Zabaleta (£7m), Vincent Kompany (£6.8m) and Tal Ben Haim (£5.1m) completed a £123.5m first summer splurge under the new owners.

It was not until May 2011 that City saw the fruits of their labour, with the FA Cup success against Stoke the club's first trophy in 35 years, in the same week they secured Champions League qualification.

So is it inevitable that the first step of any new regime is to bring in a new manager? City finished 10th in the Premier League in 2008/09 but still stuck with manager Mark Hughes for the start of the following campaign.

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Former Manchester City chief executive Garry Cook reveals to Sky Sports in January 2019 how City went from near bankruptcy to the richest takeover in English football.

They were then sitting sixth having won just two of their previous 11 league games when Hughes was sacked in December 2009 and replaced by Roberto Mancini.

In a Sky Sports interview in January 2019, former Manchester City chief executive Garry Cook said: "I think quite rightly Mark was very angry.

"One of the big regrets I have was the way our relationship with him ended. I didn't handle it particularly well. I was caught in the moment of trying to drive the ambition of the football club."

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Steve Bruce may not be afforded so much time.

It is understood the Newcastle boss is almost certain to be relieved of his duties before the Tottenham match next Sunday, live on Sky Sports. The Spurs game would be Bruce's 1,000th as a manager, and he has been in the game long enough to understand the cut-throat nature of the job.

Newcastle want to compete for the very prizes but they currently sit 19th in the Premier League, without a win in their opening seven games. It will be a slow burn, and it may be that they have to target a certain type of player - and manager - first before they can reach for the stars.

Ashley's frugal era over - but will spending be gradual?

Mike Ashley
Image: Mike Ashley's 14-year reign at Newcastle is over

It's been a rocky road for Newcastle fans since the Magpies finished third in the Premier League after promotion from the second tier in 1993/94 and achieved two successive finishes as runners-up before the millennium.

The club's fortunes began to wane during the mid-noughties and Ashley took over in 2007, following two consecutive bottom-half finishes in the Premier League.

Two seasons later, the Magpies were consigned to Championship football - but bounced straight back under Chris Hughton.

The club finished fifth under Alan Pardew in 2011/12 - but proceeded to slip in three out of the following four campaigns, before suffering relegation again in 2015/16.

Optimism returned with another immediate return to the Premier League and a 10th-place finish under Rafa Benitez - but ongoing financial constraints and seasonal struggles have since soured the mood on Tyneside.

Newcastle

The club ranked 19th in the 2019 Deloitte Money League, marking the biggest year-on-year revenue growth among listed clubs. At the same time, Ashley was reluctant to fund Benitez in the transfer market.

Indeed, Newcastle recorded just a £21m net spend under Benitez between summer 2017 and his departure in June 2019 - but have splashed more than four times that figure during almost the same timeframe since Bruce took charge.

However, even the recent injections of cash pale in comparison to other clubs and Joe Willock was the sole key signing this summer, despite last season's struggles - while the average annual net spend during the Ashley era is a meagre £9.3m.

Sky Sports News reporter Keith Downie said: "They are not going to throw money at it straight away. They want to invest gradually in the months and years ahead.

"There is a lot that needs improving at this football club - the infrastructure, the stadium, the academy - all of these need investment and I think that will be one of their priorities.

"One of their other priorities will be to keep Newcastle in the Premier League this season. Without that the takeover would've been off. They need Newcastle in the Premier League."

Will takeover deter Saint-Maximin suitors?

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Allan Saint-Maximin has been Newcastle's best player this season, racking up two goals and three assists in the opening seven games of the campaign amid what has become perpetual speculation over his future at St James' Park.

Liverpool, Everton and Chelsea have been among the clubs constantly linked with a move for the 24-year-old forward, with Bruce forced to fend off talk of a January departure as recently as last week.

In the weeks before he signed a new six-year deal on Tyneside last October, Saint-Maximin admitted he would look to leave if the club did not "develop in line with my ambitions", and told Sky Sports earlier this year "you play football to win trophies, not to fight to stay up" when asked about his future.

With Staveley's public ambition to lift the Premier League trophy inside the next decade, and new owners conscious of the Magpies' desperation for silverware, in the blink of an eye Newcastle now look a club who could feed the Frenchman's desires.

Saint-Maximin is always an amiable, outward presence on social media and the wording of his first Tweet after the takeover was confirmed certainly hints at that alignment.

"A new start with an ambitious Newcastle United," he wrote, that one word a none-too-subtle hint at his thoughts on the Ashley era.

Amid talk of big-money signings, new management and new infrastructure, keeping their star man in the north east will be one of the early major signs of the new owners' vision coming to life.

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Actor and Newcastle supporter Robson Green says he is delighted that the takeover of the club has been completed and feels the investment has given the city hope.

In-tray: How new owners can rejuvenate St James' Park

Takeover completed

Newcastle's new owners walked into St James' Park with significant work to do on and off the pitch.

Figurehead Staveley and non-executive chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan will take the wheel of a club which has been drifting for much of the last 14 years or so under previous incumbent Ashley and attempt to steer it back on course.

The deal was confirmed after the Premier League said it was satisfied that the Saudi state would not control the football club. Any evidence to the contrary could still result in the new owners being disqualified.

As the new faces at Newcastle prepare to get down to work, here are just some of the challenges they face as they seek to emulate the success at Manchester City.

Winning the PR battle

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Sacha Deshmukh, chief executive of Amnesty International, has criticised Public Investment Fund's takeover of Newcastle due to Saudi Arabia's human rights record and accused the Premier League of paving the way for so-called 'sportswashing'

Newcastle fans, many of whom who have been at war with Ashley for much of his reign, celebrated deliriously on Thursday night when the news that Staveley's largely Saudi-funded consortium had completed its takeover broke.

However even as they did so, some acknowledged concerns being expressed more widely over Saudi Arabia's human rights record, and that is not going to go away.

News of the takeover was greeted with dismay by Amnesty International, who described it as "an extremely bitter blow for human rights defenders".

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Senior lecturer in sport management and policy Dr Paul Brannagan discusses the takeover of Newcastle and explains what is meant by the term 'sportswashing'

Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK's CEO, said: "We can understand that this will be seen as a great day by many Newcastle United fans, but it's also a very worrying day for anyone who cares about the ownership of English football clubs and whether these great clubs are being used to sportswash human rights abuse.

"In our assessment, this deal was always more about sportswashing than it was about football, with Saudi Arabia's aggressive move into sport as a vehicle for image-management and PR plain for all to see."

Amnesty International has repeatedly accused the Pubic Investment Fund, which has bought an 80 per cent stake in the club, of "sportswashing" - attempting to use sport to improve its reputation.

Staveley has insisted PIF and the state are entirely separate entities and that she would not have been involved had she any concerns on that front but for many, the club will be tainted by association.

The manager

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Sky Sports News' Keith Downie believes Steve Bruce may no longer be Newcastle manager by the time they face Tottenham on October 17

Current head coach Steve Bruce has accepted that his time in the hot-seat could be drawing to a close regardless of the parlous situation in which the club finds itself after failing to win any of its first seven Premier League games this season.

Bruce, who a few days earlier had been urged to resign by 94.3 per cent of more than 5,000 respondents to a Newcastle United Supporters Trust poll, expressed his desire to continue in the immediate aftermath of the confirmation, but acknowledged "you have to be realistic and they may well want a new manager to launch things for them."

Had the takeover been approved last year, there was a very real possibility Rafael Benitez could have returned but the Spaniard is now safely ensconced at Everton.

Former Juventus, Inter Milan, Italy and Chelsea boss Antonio Conte has swiftly been installed among the bookmakers' favourites with Leicester's Brendan Rodgers and Rangers boss Steven Gerrard also featuring prominently.

The players

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New Newcastle director Amanda Staveley and her husband Mehrdad Ghodoussi reveal they will meet the club's staff on Friday. (Warning: This video contains flash photography)

Investment has been an issue at Newcastle for many years with Benitez's exasperation at his lack of funds and control over transfers one of the main reasons for his departure in 2019.

The relative austerity of Ashley's regime - initially buying promising young players with a view to selling them on at a significant profit, as they did with the likes of Yohan Cabaye, Moussa Sissoko and Aleksandar Mitrovic - has left Bruce with a reasonable team when all his players are fit, but not a great deal underneath it.

Saint-Maximin's £16m capture from Nice increasingly looks like a bargain but Joelinton is yet to live up to his club record £40m price-tag, while the entire summer budget went on £25m midfielder Joe Willock.

A proven striker to complement Callum Wilson, a creative midfielder and a commanding central defender would be a good start.

Staveley said: "Yes, we have deep pockets, but we have to also be commercially sensible in terms of there are rules around investment in the Premier League. We have to keep within those, and we're fully aware of that."

The infrastructure

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Newcastle director Amanda Staveley admits the Premier League title is a long-term target for the club's new owners as she discusses a range of issues including the futures of manager Steve Bruce and his playing squad

St James' Park looks down over the city from Gallowgate and is one of English football's most imposing venues, but it has started to look tired.

Fans will be desperate too to see the removal of Ashley's Sports Direct livery. Perhaps more urgent is the need to upgrade the club's Darsley Park training headquarters.

In 2013, plans were drawn up for a new £10m state-of-the-art facility which then director of football Joe Kinnear said would "rival any in Europe" and planning permission was granted but construction never started and the funds were later diverted into the playing squad.

Some improvements were made during Benitez's time on Tyneside, but the existing facilities do not compare favourably with many Premier League rivals.

Managing expectations

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Former Manchester United captain Bryan Robson - originally from the north-east of England - says Newcastle fans deserve success as the club heads in a new direction following the successful takeover at St James' Park

Newcastle have not won a domestic trophy since last lifting the FA Cup in 1955, and the club's 1969 European Fairs Cup triumph is a distant memory for those who witnessed it.

They now have the spending power to compete for much higher-profile signings - they are potentially the richest club in world football - but Staveley has already warned their spending, which will be limited by financial fair play rules, will have to be "commercially sensible".

Staveley said: "Obviously we bought this club with a view that we want the fans to get the trophies they deserve and we need to work with the fans to help us get there and that will take some time.

"We're not going to be winning the Premier League just yet and it's going to take some time to build the infrastructure at all levels to allow us to challenge for trophies."

She is targeting Champions League football and silverware, but patience will be required.

Hughes reminisces about Man City takeover

Former Manchester City boss Mark Hughes reflects on the Newcastle takeover and the experience he went through as manager at the Etihad Stadium during a transitional period for the club at the start of Sheikh Mansour's reign. Watch below.

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Former Manchester City boss Mark Hughes reflects on the Newcastle takeover and the experience he went through as manager at the Etihad Stadium during a transitional period for the club at the start of Sheikh Mansour's reign.
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