“I have a terrible moral dilemma. My dream was to lose sight of our owner, who has collapsed the club. And now that new owners are coming in, it turns out to be a dictatorship, ”Norman Riley told the football podcast this week. True faith. Newcastle United, one of England’s traditional clubs, is negotiating to be bought by a consortium that includes Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a deal worth more than € 340 million. could turn the North East England club into one of the most powerful teams in the Premier League. Different actors, however, try to torpedo an agreement that generates moral debates among fans.
“No matter what happens, I will keep going to the stadium. I didn’t agree with Mike Ashley either. But I admit I’m worried about the arrival of the Saudis. I have a master’s degree in human rights and I can’t take kindly to these people. Now, at the same time, I wonder why the Premier League should not allow the arrival of Saudi capital, when it has already opened the door to money from Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, which are not very democratic, precisely, ”explains Riley , in reference to Mike Ashley, probably one of the most hated men in English football. Ashley is a self-made businessman who did not even finish high school, but who was able to build an empire in the world of sports products, especially tracksuits. His company Sports Direct has made him one of the 20 richest Britons while continuing to add complaints from workers and unions. These days, for example, he has been accused of forcing his employees to work despite covid-19, while raising the price of sports products he has sold using the services of distributors to whom he has reduced his salary.
In 2007 Ashley bought 41% of the shares in Newcastle. And within a few years, he was a majority shareholder in a club that had felt important again in the previous decade. Four-time league champion from 1905 to 1927, Newcastle managed to become runners-up in 1996 and 1997 and play in the Champions League, in which they were able to defeat teams such as Barça or Juventus, with players such as Shearer, Asprilla and Ginola. Ashley, however, bought a club that had hit the roof and was accumulating debt. And his management confronted him from day one with the fans, as he did not hide the fact that he wanted to resell the club to get rich. In a few months he saw the coach, Kevin Keegan, much loved by the fans. Over the last decade the club has suffered two relegations to Second, but has returned to First in the midst of a social crisis that led more than 14,000 fans to not want to renew the season ticket in an attempt to knock out an Ashley who he kept saying that he was negotiating to sell the club, but that he never found the buyer to get rich. Now it has arrived. And he, who passes the confinement in Florida, is already rubbing his hands imagining that he will be even richer.
More executions than ever
“The fans have been waiting for a new buyer to arrive for many years, with hope. But we did not imagine that the solution would be this “, says Riley. Just when the covid-19 crisis began it was discovered that Ashley was negotiating to sell the club to a Saudi consortium. Amnesty International has already warned the Premier League that it should not authorize the operation. Behind the PCP Capital Partners consortium is Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is increasingly in charge, using sport to improve the overall position of his kingdom and clean up its image. This year, for example, he has already organized the Spanish and Italian Super Cups, as well as the Dakar. “The Premier League is risking becoming complicit in covering up an operation in which the Saudis want to use the glamor and prestige of football to cover up immoral actions that break international law,” recalls Amnesty International. In 2019 this state “executed 184 people, the highest figure recorded in a single year in a country since we collected data,” they say.
Qatar-based television channel BeIN Sport, which owns the rights to the Persian Gulf premier, has also come under pressure. He has repeatedly denounced that a website authorized by the Saudi government is illegally offering the Premier League to Saudi Arabia. Thus, the Saudis avoid having to hire a Qatar television at home, as these two states do not maintain diplomatic relations and are protagonists of the Yemen war.
The Premier League has not yet given final permission to close the deal. In 2017 the Premier adopted a new regulation to try to prevent their clubs from being bought by sources with a criminal record, the so-called Owner’s and director’s tests. In Newcastle, most fans seem to be in favor of closing the deal. In the rest of the clubs people are against it. Some for a moral issue and others to avoid having a neighbor richer than them.