London, United Kingdom (AFP) – The Premier League wanted the Saudi state to become a director of Newcastle United for a takeover deal to go through, according to a leading member of the investment group who were looking to buy the club.
A proposed £300 million ($391 million) takeover collapsed on Thursday when the investment group of the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF), billionaire brothers David and Simon Reuben and Amanda Staveley of PCP Capital Partners said they had withdrawn their interest after three months waiting for the Premier League’s approval.
Issues over Saudi piracy of sports broadcasting rights, including the Premier League, and pressure from human rights groups to block the deal complicated the process.
Staveley has been interested in buying the club for the past three years and had finally agreed a deal with Newcastle owner Mike Ashley in April with PIF reportedly set to take an 80 percent stake in the club.
“The Premier League wanted the country, Saudi, to become a director of the football club,” Staveley told The Athletic.
“That’s what this is about. They were effectively saying ‘PIF wouldn’t be the ultimate beneficial owner, we believe it’s actually the government, therefore we want the country to become a director’.
“The Premier League made it so hard. It would be unprecedented. No country has ever become a director of a club. It’s ridiculous.”
Staveley also claimed that other Premier League clubs played a part in influencing the league’s decision to stall over seeing the deal through.
Newcastle have not won a major domestic trophy since 1955, but could still count on regular crowds of 50,000 before coronavirus pandemic forced stadiums to close.
Many fans dreamed that the riches of a Saudi-backed project could replicate Manchester City’s success in winning four Premier League titles since Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour bought the club in 2008.
“We know that other clubs briefed heavily against it. Because they were jealous,” Staveley added.
“Newcastle are the last great untapped club. The last great club with so much potential to grow and improve and with a fanbase who were already there and who wanted it so much.”
Retail tycoon Ashley is a deeply unpopular figure among the Newcastle support for his treatment of fans and an unwillingness to invest on the field to improve the club’s fortunes.
Newcastle have finished 13th in the Premier League table for the past two seasons and have twice been relegated to the Championship during Ashley’s 13-year reign.