DUBAI: The door remains open for a £300m ($384 million) Saudi-led takeover of Newcastle United Football Club, after the Premier League, the governing body of top-flight English soccer, denied that the bid had been rejected.
The denial came the day after the club claimed the deal had not been approved, and hinted that legal action might be taken to force it through.
In response, the League said on Thursday: “The club’s assertion that the Premier League has rejected the takeover is incorrect. The Premier League has, on a number of occasions, given its opinion about which entities it believes would have control over the club should the consortium proceed with the acquisition. That opinion is based on legal advice.
“That means the takeover could proceed to the next stage, should the relevant parties provide all appropriate information. They would then be subject to a suitability assessment by the board (of the Premier League). As an alternative, the board has repeatedly offered arbitration as a way forward since June.”
The events of the past two days have added to the confusion surrounding the controversial takeover bid — which was contractually agreed in April but has been held up since then by the need for the League’s approval — but the response by soccer chiefs means that it remains a possibility.
On Wednesday the club, owned by entrepreneur Mike Ashley, issued a statement in which it said: “Newcastle United can confirm that the Premier League has rejected a takeover bid made by PCP Capital Partners, the Reuben Brothers and the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia (PIF) based on its owners and directors test.
“This conclusion has been reached despite the club providing the Premier League with overwhelming evidence and legal opinions that PIF is independent and autonomous of the Saudi Arabian government.”
Early this year, the Kingdom was asked for, and provided, legal assurances at the highest level that the PIF is an independent body.
“The club and its owners do not accept that Premier League Chief Executive Richard Masters and the Premier League have acted appropriately in relation to this matter, and will be considering all relevant options available to them,” the statement continued.
“Mike Ashley understands fans’ frustrations and would like to reassure them that he has been fully committed to ensuring this takeover process reached completion, as he felt it was in the best interests of the club.”
The Premier League said it was “disappointed and surprised” by the club’s claims, and in particular for singling out Masters as having behaved inappropriately.
The PIF and other members of the consortium are believed to be frustrated by the lack of progress in their takeover bid. They formally withdrew their offer at the end of July but have made no secret of their desire to proceed with the purchase of the club, subject to Premier League approval.
A person familiar with the consortium said its members were surprised by the club’s statement, about which they were not consulted, and were unaware of any change in the Premier League’s stance. As far as they are aware, there has been no change since July, when the Premier League asked the consortium to agree to binding arbitration talks in an attempt to resolve outstanding issues.
The English football season kicks off this weekend.