NEWCASTLE: It was said to be the takeover to end all takeovers. No deal had even come close, not even the mega-rich buyouts of Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain by Dubai and Qatar-based investors.
It was a deal that promised so much for a fanbase so willing, and a club so ripe for the picking — but has it delivered?
Here we take a look at what has actually changed in the 12 months on Tyneside since the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia takeover of Newcastle United, as seen through the eyes of fans — with hints of what’s to come through the words of PIF chief and Magpies’ chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan.
So what has changed?
So much in many ways, and yet so little in others — although the last bit must be caveated with the word pending.
This takeover, and the preamble to its being, can be divided into two very distinct categories — what the deal can bring for the football club, and what it can bring to the wider community in the northeast of England.
In a football sense, Newcastle United is a club transformed.
Long gone are the days of flirting with relegation back to the Championship, England’s second tier, a place United stooped to twice during previous owner Mike Ashley’s reign. Now, a fresh optimism that European football can return to St. James’ Park, something seen just once in more than a decade and a half.
And how has that been achieved — well, just by trying to run Newcastle like a proper, functioning Premier League football club, not the dysfunctional mess Sports Direct tycoon Ashley presided over.
Jobs and roles that were previously filled by just one person, now have teams of operatives. Key positions such as chief executive and director of football have been stocked with well-qualified personnel.
There is a real sense that from the boardroom to the dugout and on to the pitch, every person at the club is pulling in the same direction, has the same end goal — and the goal is, of course, success and silverware on Tyneside.
Manager Steve Bruce was replaced with a self-confessed workaholic and “football geek” Eddie Howe.
His fresh, modern approach to the game could not be more at odds with his ex-Manchester United predecessor’s old pals, 1990s football playbook. And it was something the players, many of those starring now were already here before the takeover, have commented on.
There is a clear style of play, an identity about Howe’s Newcastle — when has that ever been said about Newcastle in recent years?
Howe is squeezing the best out of some cast aside by Bruce, such as Fabian Schar and others, while complementing them with flashes of new-found brilliance from Bruno Guimaraes et al.
Signing the likes of Bruno has been one of the biggest changes, too. The summer of 2021 was one of pain and frustration as United failed to capitalize on a decent end to the 2020-21 campaign under Bruce, by signing just one player permanently, Joe Willock. And he was a player who was already at the club on loan.
Since that window, about £200 million has been splashed out on various rising stars from across the Continent. United broke their transfer record to sign Alexander Isak, who was very much on Man City’s radar, I’m told, had any hiccups occurred in the deal to sign Erling Haaland last summer.
The small but important details have not been overlooked either. The need to improve the training ground, so often a source of embarrassment, even for United managers, has already been addressed, with much more to be completed during the winter break for Qatar World Cup, during which United are expected to spend some time in Saudi. A new facility, on the boundaries between leafy Gosforth and Brutalist 1960s new town Killingworth, is in the pipeline.
Club legend Alan Shearer has been honored, not once but twice. That was unthinkable under Ashley, who had sacked the former England captain. His statue moved back on to club land and the bar formerly of his name, returned to its former glory, one befitting of a player who netted 206 goals for the football club.
Care and attention after years of neglect has not gone unnoticed by the receptive Geordie public, who now fill out the ground again, only years after Ashley was forced to give away 10,000 free season tickets in order to keep attendances high.
And that brings me on to the second part of this — what has the deal done for the region.
Well, beyond training ground hints, the answer, at this stage, is very little.
That, however, is definitely set to change. Investment is afoot, it’s understood, with the owners’ plans likely to see cash and potentially jobs flood to the region.
For now, though, that side of the deal is yet to really come to fruition, hence the idea of pending.
The fans’ view “Imagine what this will look like in two years’ time?”
Newcastle has always been famous the world over for the undying, unwavering love of its fans. And 12 months to the day since tens of thousands of them flocked to St. James’ Park, their cathedral on the hill, to mark the passing of the Ashley regime and the rebirth of the sleeping giant on the Tyne, they remain at the very heart of the club’s success moving forward.
“The last year has demonstrated what every Newcastle United fan knew all along. We knew that with the right owners the football club and the city would take off,” said Alex Hurst, of NUFC fanzine True Faith.
“We knew that the club would once again become integral in the lives of millions of people.
“After years of the club being talked down and mocked, the rest of the league and wider football media has had to come to terms with their beloved six becoming seven. Newcastle United have dominated two transfer windows and beaten much of the Premier League since the takeover, despite years of neglect and an almost non existent infrastructure away from the pitch. Imagine what all of this will look like in two years’ time?
“This was supposed to be the hardest part for owners, fans and footballers. Everything has gone to plan so far. Everything. This twelve months has been special but I think everyone in football is aware, they’ve seen nothing yet.”
As his words detail, Hurst is unequivocal in his view that this deal has had an inherently positive impact on what it means to be associated with Newcastle United.
That’s a view echoed by YouTuber and NUFC Matters podcast host, Steve Wraith.
“When I stood at Molineux in October 2021 in the rain watching another abject display from Steve Bruce’s beleaguered Newcastle team, never could I have imagined that we would be in the position that we now find ourselves in,” he said.
“The takeover of our club by PIF and partners was something our supporters had craved throughout 14 years of misery under Mike Ashley’s ownership.
“In the last 12 months we have retained our premier league status with a hungry new manager in Eddie Howe and made shrewd signings such as Kieran Trippier, Dan Burn, Bruno Guimaraes and a club record signing in Alexander Isak.
“More importantly the new owners have given the supporters hope and with that hope have reunited the fanbase.
“A club disunited for over a decade can once again proudly call itself Newcastle United.”
The future — what next for Newcastle United?
We will leave this to the man who basically holds the keys to the kingdom, the man co-owner Mehrdad Ghodoussi called “boss” on Twitter on Thursday evening, Al-Rumayyan. Often seen as a bright, smiley face in the directors box at SJP and sometimes with a black and white flag in his hand, Al-Rumayyan and PIF, have been welcomed into the club by the people of the region with open arms.
After 15 years of a financial tyrant, resistance was never expected to be encountered — one of the reasons it was such an investable project.
So many predicted the club would be run like PSG or City. So far, it hasn’t. This isn’t about Galactico signings, more medium to long-term deals, improvement from the grassroots up. Every deal must have value for money. Too many sporting ‘projects’ have poured cash down the drain, not under Al-Rumayyan and PIF’s watch.
So why Newcastle and why the Premier League?
“So football is part of the 13 sectors that PIF are interested in. Football is certainly one of the most important sports, whether here or globally, it’s the number one sport,” said Al-Rumayyan.
“Why the EPL? Why the English League? Because it’s currently the greatest league in the world. It has no challengers.
“There are 20 teams, three that will suffer relegation, and three that will be promoted from the second tier. What distinguishes the English league is that any of the 20 teams could beat even the strongest team. The level of competition is extremely high.”
Bang for the buck was, and always is, the main consideration for PIF when investing in any project. NUFC is no different.
Al-Rumayyan explains: “When we looked at it, we considered the financial aspect.
“By the way, it wasn’t the first ‘offer’ that came our way from a club. We looked at clubs in Italy, in France, in Britain. So for example, in Britain, a club approached us to own 30 percent without having any say in its running.”
That is understood to be Manchester United.
He continues: “For £700 million sterling. But we bought Newcastle, 100 percent ownership was offered to us. But the party that brought us the opportunity, Amanda Staveley and her husband, said ‘we like it so much, we’d like to be with you’. Then the Reuben family, who are one of the biggest property developers, said ‘we’d like to come with you’. They were one of the leading developers in Newcastle, and I said excellent, let them join. So now they have skin in the game.
“We bought the club for a total of £350 million sterling compared to the 70 million for only 30 percent, or the 3.5 billion for Chelsea.
“So my potential is to go from 350 million to at least 3.5 billion, that’s 10 times the money. If I’d bought Chelsea, how high could the value go? 4 billion? 5 billion? So it’s pure investment, that’s the first thing.
“Number two, Newcastle is one of few one-club cities. Most cities have several clubs. The whole of Newcastle is behind you, 950,000 people, and more than 1 million in the wider region, are all fans. We have about 52,000 seats at the stadium, all sold out.”
And is there potential for wider investment in the northeast of England?
“When you look at it from every angle, there is potential. The chief strategists for international investments are looking at the property and infrastructure developments that we will be involved in in that area,” said Al-Rumayyan.
“So the potential in terms of investment is huge, and at the same time it gives us a platform going forward for sports investment.”
What of the club’s on-field ambitions? Al-Rumayyan addressed that very subject in a club statement released to fans on the eve of the one-year deal anniversary.
And what’s certain is, PIF is aiming BIG. They’re not here to take part, they’re here to take over.
“We told you that we wanted to build, over time, a consistently successful team. And we told you that we were focused on long-term success,” he stated.
“There is still a long way to go, but each season is a building block toward our objective – to challenge for trophies both domestically and in Europe. The Club we are building is made up of people who understand our long-term vision, and who understand the patience and persistence that it will take to achieve those goals.”
While that rhetoric will get the juices flowing for Newcastle fans, it feels like only the opening stanza of a wonderful, PIF-orchestrated symphony on Tyneside.
Ask any United fan and they’d tell you they’d be happy with one trophy in their lifetime, bearing in mind the club has not won a major domestic honor since 1955. Just one? That’s the bare minimum for those at the top of the football club — and Newcastle and its fans are all for it.