The whole season has been played out in the shadow of the takeover. Newcastle are battling in the Premier League with a Championship squad, with Ashley understandably reluctant to invest in players for the benefit of a new owner. Even with Amanda Staveley, the financer fronting the deal, increasing her offer to a reported £300 million ($400 million) on Wednesday, though, it is unlikely any resolution will be swift and it could be late January or even February before the takeover is completed. That would be too late for the January transfer window, which could have serious consequences for the club in terms of avoiding relegation. Exactly who is backing the fund remains unclear, although it is thought the main driver is from the Arabian Gulf. Newcastle fans won’t care.
After a decade of battling Ashley and his cost-cutting and crassness, there’s a sense that almost any owner is better than the one they have. It is, of course, nothing new for Premier League clubs to be under foreign ownership. Only seven of the 20 clubs are majority-owned by British concerns.
The Premier League is increasingly a global league that happens to be hosted by England (and Wales). Newcastle will look at the last deal Staveley fronted — Sheikh Mansour’s takeover of Manchester City in 2009 — and feel a surge of optimism. Whatever dark mutterings there may have been about City buying success (as though every successful club in the past 40 years or so of English football didn’t in part owe its position to economic advantages), or Mansour’s reasons for investing in English football — it would be naïve to believe he has done it solely because he enjoys the game, or because he believes it will secure a healthy return on investment — the result has been a team playing the best football in the world at the moment.
You do not have to be a City fan to see his ownership of the club as a positive, and that is without even considering all the investment that has gone on to redevelop what had been a run-down area of east Manchester.
The general perception of the Qatari investment in PSG is rather less positive. They too have played some thrilling attacking football this season, breaking the Champions League group stage goalscoring record.
The signings of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, though, were so brash and created such an imbalance in the squad that it was hard to interpret them as having been made for purely football reasons; rather this was a display of financial muscle, a slightly vulgar expression of soft power that, frankly, made a mockery of Financial Fair Play regulations. Everton, meanwhile, serve as a cautionary tale closer to home for Newcastle of Middle-Eastern investment and what can go wrong when money is sent without a plan.
While PSG will almost certainly win Ligue 1 and should be challengers for the Champions League, Everton, after a summer in which they spent €158 million (albeit recouping €107.4 million), found relegation such a threat they were forced to part company with Ronaldo Koeman and appoint Sam Allardyce, a step that has driven them up the table but is hardly the move of a progressive club building for an exciting future. It’s a familiar theme. Success in football is almost impossible without money but money in and of itself is not sufficient to bring success. Squads must be blended with care and attention. It has taken City eight years to get to this stage, appointing former Barcelona executives to entice Pep Guardiola and then buying him the players he needed.
Staveley’s takeover, if it goes ahead, will solve only one of Newcastle’s problems, that of Ashley. Beyond that, it’s an opportunity, and one that will increase the influence of the Middle East in European football.