Newcastle takeover: The Sunday Supplement view on Saudi-based consortium amid scrutiny

'The bigger issue for the Premier League will be broadcast rights, not human rights... Newcastle fans want liberation after Mike Ashley occupation'

Mike Ashley and Lee Charnley pictured during Newcastle's FA Cup Fourth Round Replay with Oxford United 4:55
Sunday Supplement guest Henry Winter expects some protests at St James' Park against the human rights record of Saudi Arabia if the takeover is completed - but says fans will celebrate the end of Mike Ashley's reign

Newcastle's proposed takeover by a Saudi-backed consortium has come under widespread scrutiny - but what do the Sunday Supplement panel make of the Premier League's prospective newest owners?

Sky Sports News has reported that PCP Capital Partners' proposed takeover of the club is nearing completion after the consortium paid a £17m deposit and exchanged contracts with current owner Mike Ashley.

But there have been questions from high-profile quarters amid piracy claims and concerns over Saudi Arabia's human rights record.

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The Premier League and its 20 clubs have received a letter from broadcaster beIN Sport urging them to block the sale of clubs over claims of illegal streaming, while Amnesty International has written to Premier League chief executive Richard Masters.

The Government was subsequently urged to "take a role" in scrutinising the proposed Saudi-led takeover of Newcastle by the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on football.

The Supplement panel debated the moral and business considerations for Premier League chiefs - but also acknowledged Newcastle fans' appetite for change after 13 years of Mike Ashley's tumultuous ownership.

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'Fan liberation after Ashley occupation'

Some Newcastle fans have voiced their disapproval of Ashley's tenure for years
Image: Some Newcastle fans have voiced their disapproval of Ashley's tenure for years

Henry Winter - Chief Football Writer, The Times: "The bigger issue for the Premier League will be broadcast rights, not human rights.

"There are two narratives at play here - first, the desire by Newcastle fans, effectively, to have a liberation after the occupation by Mike Ashley of their great club after 13 years. It's been a cold, sterile experience, even as an outsider, to go up there. You could see how much they were hating the joylessness.

"Newcastle fans are not stupid; they're not expecting to win the league or the Champions League but they want a chance; they want some hope that they can see pride in the shirt, see attacking football, see the likes of another David Ginola or Alan Shearer. They've got some decent players but it's a very under-resourced squad.

"I've read a lot of pieces and seen things on social media about Newcastle fans and the desire to get rid of Ashley but go to Newcastle, spend time with the fans, experience what's happened in Newcastle during this 13-year 'occupation' and you'll understand why the fans are so keen to move Mike Ashley out.

"The next issue is whether the Saudis are the right owners for the club. You might have one or two politicians piping up but I don't think the Government are going to get involved. There are serious human rights concerns and I think if the takeover does go through, there will be demonstrations outside the ground but if anything is going to derail this bid - and I do think it will go through - it will be the issue of broadcast rights.

"The Newcastle fans are in the middle of this. I'm backing them on this. I think this is a huge moment for them but I think we need to urge some caution that, when the takeover does go through, the focus on human rights in Saudi Arabia will become even more intense and Newcastle United fans and the club have to be aware of that."

'Moral and human rights aspect massive'

Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley and Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman
Image: Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley and Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman

John Cross - Chief Football Writer, Daily Mirror: "I completely understand it from Newcastle fans' point of view. I must say the potential takeover really troubles me much more from a moral point of view rather than it does from the TV rights point of view, which is clearly a very individual dispute between two nations.

"You can't blame the Newcastle fans for thriving on that hope but that doesn't then separate the fact that over the last week or so we've been absolutely right to question the moral aspect, the human rights aspect, which I think is a massive thing.

"But I also think it is worth touching upon that fact we've had a lot of scepticism about foreign ownership before. I understand this is completely different from a moral point of view, but I remember writing and questioning Roman Abramovich's takeover at Chelsea. Look at what he did for the Premier League and for Chelsea.

"Look at Manchester City and what the takeover has done for that particular area of Manchester. I cannot deny I love Man City and what they stand for because of the football that they play. Yes, there will always be questions about the investment and what's going on at the moment, but you cannot tell me that foreign ownership, on some level, has not been fantastic for the Premier League.

"But I do think, from a moral standpoint, Newcastle is a case that must continue to be questioned and looked at very intently."

Financial Fair Play warning to Newcastle

Amanda Staveley in the stands during a Premier League match at St James' Park 1:12
Sky Sports News north-east reporter Keith Downie explains what Newcastle’s proposed new owners will be aiming to achieve if the deal is completed

Martin Samuel - Chief Sports Writer, Daily Mail: "I don't see any official objection to (the takeover) whatsoever. My personal position on it was that I was very sceptical at the start because there have been so many near misses with Newcastle takeovers where the money has mysteriously not been there or the person disappears when it came to it.

"I began in a sceptical position, but I think this one is genuine. This one goes through. It works as a business proposition.

"What they will be able to do once they are in there, however, is a completely different thing because I know the Newcastle fans will be expecting a massive influx of money, and there will be money in the club, in the facilities of the club, in the structure of the club and more money in the transfer market.

"But the Financial Fair Play rules are there to stop owner investment and Newcastle will find it very, very difficult to get around those rules just as Man City are finding it very, very difficult to get their money into the club and just as any new owner finds it difficult to put money in.

"The fans will be delighted because they've got rid of Mike Ashley, but in terms of being able to grow the club and making a short-term impact on those elite teams, I think it could be quite frustrating for them."

'Bruce has done incredible job'

Steve Bruce, Manager of Newcastle United looks on prior to the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Burnley FC at St. James Park on February 29, 2020 in Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom. 0:37
Former Newcastle favourite Faustino Asprilla has urged the club's potential new owners to stick with Steve Bruce as manager

John Cross, Chief Football Writer, Daily Mirror: "When you consider how unhappy Newcastle fans are simply because of the lack of investment, lack of support, I think you step back and say, in that context, what an incredible job Steve Bruce has done.

"Yes, sometimes I get the fact that it is not the kind of football they want. Yes, I get the fact that he is associated, despite being a lifelong Newcastle fan, as Mike Ashley's man. Well, he has not been that man from my point of view, and I think he deserves a great deal more respect than he's often shown.

Take a look back at Faustino Asprilla's top five Premier League goals from his days with Newcastle. 1:58
Take a look back at Faustino Asprilla's top five Premier League goals from his days with Newcastle

"I think he's done a very good job. His record compares favourably to Rafa Benitez, but equally I don't blame the Newcastle fans for seizing on that hope for a brighter future. But given the opportunity and given the support that he potentially gets from better, different owners, then I think Bruce could do a job."

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