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
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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.
 


Riz Rehman is the man with a plan to ensure Premier League passion is Muslim-friendly

Updated 22 September 2018
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Riz Rehman is the man with a plan to ensure Premier League passion is Muslim-friendly

  • Mohamed Salah's record-breaking season has focused attention on the Premier League's Muslim players and fans.
  • Past three players to win Player of the Year have all been Muslim.

LONDON: The face of English football has changed unimaginably since the start of the Premier League in 1992 — not least in terms of the number of Muslim footballers plying their trade in the most popular league in the world.
Twenty-six years ago, Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Nayim was the league’s only practicing Muslim. Fast forward to 2018 and there are now more than 40 Muslim players gracing England’s top flight — many of them global stars such as Mohamed Salah, Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante. 
This is a hugely welcome development for the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) and its education adviser, Riz Rehman, who is himself a Muslim. 
Rehman’s role involves him supporting players of different backgrounds — including Muslims — and aiming to boost their participation in football. Little wonder, then, that he is delighted that the past three winners of the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award were all Muslim — Salah, Kante and Riyad Mahrez. 
“It’s great for the Muslim community — young people, players, aspiring players and coaches — that three Muslims have won this award and that two of them (Salah and Mahrez) are Arabs,” Rehman told Arab News. 
“It’s very important because it’s created more awareness about Muslims being good at the game and sport in general. It’s important we highlight this.” 
Leading Muslim footballers’ soaring success and stardom have coincided with rising Islamaphobic attacks in Britain following the Brexit vote in 2016. Regressive attitudes toward race, religion and immigration have raged in some parts of the country, as Rehman acknowledged. 
“The biggest misconceptions are that Muslims are all terrorists or that they are all Asian and have long beards,” he said. “Isolated incidents are giving Muslims a bad name.” 
Mercifully for Rehman and the PFA, the likes of Salah and Kante are portraying Muslims in a far more positive — and realistic — light on and off the pitch. 
During his sublime 2017-18 season, Liverpool star Salah topped the Premier League goal-scoring charts with 32 goals and reached the Champions League final. His unstinting brilliance led to him being serenaded with his own song by Liverpool fans, which includes the line: “If he scores another few, then I’ll be a Muslim too.” 

Mohamed Salah has created a positive image of Muslims during his record-breaking year in the Premier League. 


Many social media posts and videos showing young supporters copying the Egyptian maestro’s overtly religious goal celebration have also been posted many times. This involves him performing sujood, the Islamic art of prostration. 
“Things like that are really helping to bring down barriers in the game,” Rehman said. 
Likewise, he cites the fact that Salah and his Liverpool teammate, Sadio Mane, visit a mosque every week after training for Jumu’ah, the Friday prayer. 
Meanwhile, only last Saturday the humbleness of Chelsea’s irrepressible midfielder Kante — who has two Premier League winners’ medals and one FA Cup success to his name — was widely hailed. 
After missing his Eurostar train to Paris, Kante — who achieved World Cup glory with France in July — was invited home for dinner by Arsenal fan Badlur Rahman Jalil after meeting him while praying at a London mosque. Remarkably, Kante duly obliged and spent the evening watching Match of the Day and playing the FIFA video game with Jalil and his friends. 
“People are more aware that we have Muslim players in the game,” Rehman said. “Players are not afraid to come out and embrace the fact that they are Muslims and showing the world that they’re good people.” 
But are the PFA — and clubs in the Premier League and England in general — doing enough to increase Muslim representation in English football? 
“I think things are better than ever. A lot of clubs are working hard on all-inclusive programs,” replied Rehman, who was a promising youth-team player at Brentford before injury cut short his career at the age of 17 in 2000. 
“We deliver workshops aimed at club staff to educate them about better engaging Muslim communities. We get staff and coaches together and tell them more about Islam, what it involves and discuss Ramadan and how it might affect performance and participation at all levels. 
“On the back of that, hopefully clubs will deliver programs around the needs of the community. There are clubs like Crystal Palace who are looking to deliver Asian-specific programs to get more Asian kids playing football, more Asian coaches and look at the Muslim community as well.” 
Rehman himself helped organized an Iftar event at League One outfit Portsmouth earlier this year, which “went really well.” 
“We also had players come along to support the day. Clubs such as Crystal Palace, Leicester City and a few others are showing an interest in holding similar events next season. 
“Leicester City are a club with a massive Asian community and we are supporting them with trying to set up some programs.” 
Also high on Rehman’s agenda is encouraging more BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) coaches into the game. As well as sitting on the advisory group for the Premier Leagues Elite Coach Apprenticeship Scheme, one key program he is involved in is “Sidelined-to-Sidelines.”

N'Golo Kante has been one of the best players in England's top-flight since he moved to the Premier League three years ago. 


This was established by the Zesh Rehman Foundation — which was set up by his brother, a former Fulham defender — to address a shortage of qualified South Asian coaches. 
“We are setting up sessions to try and recruit young coaches at clubs like Crystal Palace, QPR and Chelsea,” Rehman revealed. “Coaches wearing those club badges become role models and are able to influence their own communities and encourage more kids (from under-represented ethnicities) to take up the game.” 
Rehman is keen to recruit more Muslim “ambassadors” at clubs “up and down the country” to emulate the likes of the inspirational Salah. 
“We want them to work with the community, local groups, mosques, and get players to actually go into those communities and build links with the clubs. It’s a two-way thing.” 
Progress has also been made in attracting more Muslim supporters to Premier League matches, Rehman added. Liverpool and Brighton and Hove Albion are among the clubs that have multi-faith prayer rooms to cater for their increasingly diverse fanbases, he said. 
“Some clubs sell halal food, too, so there’s something for everyone.
“It’s a worldwide game now. Mo Salah has reached out to a lot of people. I think Muslim communities themselves have to make an effort to go to matches. 
“It’s not an overnight success, but you do see different communities represented on match days, week in and week out.”