New takeover ‘updates’ have emerged from The Guardian and The Financial times on Sunday night, building on weekend reports that Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund are closing in on a £340m takeover.
To begin with, the Guardian’s Louise Taylor states that ‘sources close to the deal are “90% certain” the transaction will go through – but she does report that Ashley has been ‘unimpressed’ by the latest leaks, suggesting there is still an element of doubt lingering.
Elsewhere, the Financial Times say that accountants involved in auditing Mike Ashley’s retail businesses were told in recent weeks that Newcastle was “disappearing from the book” – also claiming that those ‘close to the deal’ believe a takeover – which is being brokered by Amanda Staveley – could even be completed as early as Tuesday.
The FT also write that there’d be no ‘knee jerk’ changes if the deal went through, meaning Steve Bruce would remain in charge, however they report that “£200m” would be spent on improving the squad – along with money invested in the club’s infrastructure.
Starting with The Guardian, here’s what Louise Taylor’s had to say in her latest:
A shell company has been registered by Amanda Staveley to facilitate the potential £340m takeover of Newcastle United by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund as sources close to the deal claim they are now “90% certain” it will succeed.
It seems the coming week could prove critical as a “tipping point” has been reached, dictating that the next few days will either see the club’s current owner, Mike Ashley, sell up or a takeover first proposed nine months ago founder.
Amanda Staveley, the Dubai based financier serving as a conduit between the Saudis and the Ashley hopes to assume a minority 10% stake in any final agreement and, on 6 January this year, set up PZ Newco Ltd with an address on London’s Park Lane.
The PZ refers to Project Zebra – the codename for the planned Newcastle takeover – and the two listed directors are Staveley and her husband Mehrdad Ghodussi. The fledgling company would be used as a vehicle to transfer shares if any deal is finally completed.
Although due diligence has been completed and advanced talks have been taking place for four months that remains a significant if. Particularly as Ashley has previously said that the leakage of details of any proposed takeover before contracts are exchanged would make it unlikely to happen. In general, major football buy-outs – most notably Abu Dhabi’s of Manchester City – are conducted amid blanket secrecy.
Tellingly Ashley is said to be “unimpressed” by this latest leak which all involved parties acknowledge has placed the transaction in jeopardy. Moreover the retail tycoon described a previous attempted by Staveley to buy Newcastle as a “time-wasting” exercise.
Even so, Ashley is still be negotiating with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund – Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s investment vehicle – and, although senior figures at Newcastle remain sceptical as to the outcome, Staveley’s camp have made detailed plans for the football operation at Newcastle after an imminent transfer of power. There would though be “no knee jerk” changes with Steve Bruce expected to remain as manager.
Project Zebra’s vision includes not only a £200m investment in the squad but the regeneration of run-down parts of Newcastle in much the same way that Abu Dhabi’s royal family has invested in areas of east Manchester since its 2008 purchase of City.
Here’s a snippet from the Financial Times’ latest piece on a potential buyout:
The Public Investment Fund, controlled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was brought to the table by Amanda Staveley, a well-connected British financier. Over the past six months, talks between the PIF, Ms Staveley and Mr Ashley have intensified, according to people familiar with the discussions.
The optimism in the stands at the club’s home stadium of St James’s Park is at the prospect of Mr Ashley’s departure. The founder of the Sports Direct retail chain is reviled by fans because of a perceived lack of investment in players that has led to mediocre performances on the pitch.
Ms Staveley’s PCP private equity firm would put in 20 per cent of the consideration for the club, according to the people with knowledge of the talks, with 10 per cent of the funds coming from her directly. The majority of funding would come from PIF. The prospective buyers have also earmarked a further £200m for new investment in the club.
Talks are at a delicate juncture. While one person said a deal could be completed as early as Tuesday, others warned that discussions may yet drag on for weeks or collapse altogether, particularly given the involvement of mercurial figures such as Mr Ashley, Ms Staveley and Prince Mohammed.
Two years ago talks between Mr Ashley and Ms Staveley collapsed in acrimony over leaks to the media after a cash offer of £250m was rejected. In the past year Sheikh Khaled bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a member of the United Arab Emirates’ ruling family, and an investment group led by former Chelsea and Manchester United chief executive Peter Kenyon have also made unsuccessful approaches over an acquisition.
“I’m just very cautious,” said one person with knowledge of the talks, adding that Mr Ashley “can change his mind on a sixpence”.
Newcastle, PCP and the Premier League declined to comment. PIF and Mr Ashley did not respond to requests for comment. The involvement of PIF, which has more than $300bn in assets under management and has made high-profile foreign investments including the acquisition of stakes in Tesla and Uber, means the discussions are being taken seriously.
Accountants involved in auditing Mr Ashley’s retail businesses were told in recent weeks that Newcastle was “disappearing from the book”, according to a person with knowledge of the matter, in another sign that the British billionaire is finally moving to offload it.
Saudi Arabia is looking to follow a playbook adopted by neighbouring Gulf states that have already gained entry into the world’s most popular sport. A person with knowledge of Saudi plans said the acquisition had already been “blessed” by the state, with plans to introduce “KSA-type branding” on Newcastle’s black and white striped shirt.
The mixed messages leave me fearing the worst here – even if it’s har not to get carried away by claims the deal is “90% certain” or could be ‘done’ by Tuesday.
As ever, we live in hope – but certainly not expectation.