Middle East money bound for Newcastle

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Amanda Staveley is leading a group seeking to buy Newcastle from Mike Ashley. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 15 December 2017

Middle East money bound for Newcastle

LONDON: Newcastle United find themselves in a strange limbo but on Wednesday night, it seems, the takeover of the club by the Dubai-based PCP Capital Partners Middle Eastern investment fund took a significant step forward. It is a saga that had dragged on for so long, that many fans had begun to lose hope of the takeover happening at all; after all, it wouldn’t be the first time their owner Mike Ashley had prevaricated on a deal with the result that the potential buyers had drifted off.
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.

BMW’s Antonio Felix da Costa crowned champion at Saudi Arabia's Ad Diriyah E-Prix

Updated 15 December 2018

BMW’s Antonio Felix da Costa crowned champion at Saudi Arabia's Ad Diriyah E-Prix

  • The Portuguese driver held on for victory ahead of Techeetah’s Jean-Eric Vergne and Jerome d’Ambrosio in the Mahindra car
  • Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi had the best start on the grid

AD DIRIYAH, Riyadh: Antonio Felix da Costa praised his BMW garage but said there is still a lot of work for him and the team to do in this year’s Formula E season after winning the inaugural Ad Diriyah E-Prix on Saturday.

Da Costa was on pole from the beginning of the race and led away from the line, despite lining up at the front of the grid pointing toward the outside wall at a dusty and overcast Ad Diriyah circuit.

The Portuguese driver held on for victory ahead of Techeetah’s Jean-Eric Vergne and Jerome d’Ambrosio in the Mahindra car.

Da Costa told Arab News that the new “cooler and futuristic” Gen 2 car gives drivers more power, stability and grip, and that there was “a lot to take in” during the race.

“It is a new car, a new track, a new way of racing, (with) ‘Attack Mode’, and I got the ‘Fan Boost’ for the first time, so there were a lot of things to do and as a team and we executed so well, so I think that is why we won today because we were not the quickest car but we just had a perfect race.

“It is amazing, it’s been really tough and long months of work, but I am really happy with that,” da Costa added.

“We definitely have some work to do as the two Techeetah cars were really fast, and even with (Vergne’s) drive through penalty, he was right there at the end.

“But it’s a good start and we’ll keep working on that and try to keep it going,” he added.

When asked about BMW being involved in Formula E as a factory team for the first time, da Costa said: “It hasn’t been easy the last two years, but as I said it has been a lot work between Indianapolis with Andretti and Munich with BMW, it is great to see and I am so happy for everyone back in Munich.”

Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi had the best start on the grid after he blasted by Jose Maria Lopez around the outside of the first corner from third place.

The front four pulled away from the rest of the pack, before Vergne — who started the race in fifth — passed Lopez on lap one of what would become a 33-lap race, with his teammate Andre Lotterer also getting past the Geox Dragon driver.

As da Costa consolidated his lead, Vergne was closing in on Buemi, eventually passing him in a great move around the outside on lap nine. The Frenchman then set about reeling in da Costa, with the Portuguese offering fierce resistance.

Vergne was then forced to serve drive-through penalties – just after he had used his first “attack mode” – for going exceeding the permitted power while using his “re-gen,” which put paid to him getting a victory.

Reigning champion Vergne, while impressed with the venue, was philosophical after the race.

“I was really hungry for a victory today, but the qualifying in the morning did not go as planned.

“Unfortunately, it was a step down from where I wanted to be, I wanted to win this one. 

“I had a fantastic car, it was incredibly fast, but a big congratulations to the BMW guys and Antonio, it was a well-deserved victory.

“What I will take as a positive from this weekend is that we have a strong team and a very strong car and I am very motivated.

“Going forward, we just need to make sure we don’t make the same mistakes that cost us the win today, but it’s a very encouraging first race and I’m looking forward to Marrakech now.”

On his drive through penalty, he said: “Yes, I had quite a few overtakes on the outside, on the inside, but it was a fun race, I honestly had a lot of fun. 

“I’m content with P2 today, and hoping to keep this package (on the car) and hopefully get some victories.”
Meanwhile, third-placed d’Ambrosio was delighted with his finish to the race.

“I am super happy, it was a great first race with Mahindra and a great start to the championship, I am lucky to be part of such a great team with some great people.

“I have come from two difficult years, so it’s great to start this new relationship with the team in this way. We worked very hard in the past few months to be ready, I think we were very fast but at the end of the race I didn’t have the confidence in the braking.

“But it makes a great to start to the season, with the podium and banking the points, and we’ll see what happens now.”

When asked about the new “attack mode” in Formula E, he said: “It is great, I actually wasn’t supposed to use it at that point of the race (when I did), but I had a good feeling and I saw Techeetah use it and start to build a gap, so I went for it and when the safety car came in I used it again.”