If the Premier League gives it the go-ahead - and Mike Ashley doesn’t change his mind – the sale of Newcastle United will prove a second major top-flight coup for the female financier behind the deal. Amanda Staveley is not only brokering Ashley’s £300m exit from St James’ Park but in 2008 was also behind the takeover of Manchester City by Sheikh Mansour.
Staveley will take a 10% share in Newcastle through her company PCP Capital Partners, so will the private equity firm run by the Reuben brothers and the remaining 80% will be held by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF). When negotiations began, Ashley’s price to walk away was nearer £350m; the new, reduced amount reflects the uncertain state of football’s current finances.
A source close to the deal said the sale is finally agreed and the paperwork is already under the noses of the league so they can run their owners’ and directors’ test. Staveley and Ashley have haggled over Newcastle United before, three years ago. Then the deal broke down with Ashley describing the whole episode as a “complete waste of time". Some observers believe, despite the current agreement, the same could happen again this time.
Ashley has been a controversial and little loved owner and has been trying to get rid of the club more than a decade. During his tenure he had a huge fallout with manager and club icon Kevin Keegan and saw the club relegated to the Championship twice. Just recently he’s attracted considerable criticism for using the government’s emergency job retention scheme to furlough non-playing staff at St James’ Park and for keeping his Sports Direct stores open beyond the official coronavirus lockdown deadline.
If the deal goes through, Ashley won’t be missed and such is the disregard for him that few have cast a critical eye over his replacement, the Saudi sovereign wealth fund.
Talk of sports-washing, soft power and human rights abuses has been thin on the ground so far. Given Ashley’s standing and the wreck of the global economy it might stay that way for some time. Well, in Newcastle at least.