'Never say never': Newcastle say Ashley still committed to Saudi-led sale

Louise Taylor on 31 July 2020

Newcastle’s managing director has raised hopes, admittedly slender, that the club’s collapsed sale to a Saudi-led consortium could be resurrected.

“Never say never,” said Lee Charnley as he broke his silence on the £300m takeover saga involving Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), Reuben Brothers and Amanda Staveley.

The would-be buyers withdrew on Thursday citing, among other reasons, delays in the Premier League’s owners’ and directors’ test. Charnley moved to reassure Newcastle supporters by claiming Ashley would back Steve Bruce in the transfer market and suggested hope of a restructured deal had not been abandoned.

“We acknowledge yesterday’s statement,” said Charnley in a statement of his own issued to Sky Sports. “Never say never, but to be clear, Mike Ashley is 100% committed to this deal [sale].

“However our current focus must now be on supporting Steve Bruce in the transfer market and on the preparations for the new season.”

Ashley is understood to have negotiated into the early hours of Friday morning in a forlorn attempt to revive the Saudi buyout. The retail tycoon is desperate to sell Newcastle in order to reinvest in his currently struggling high street-based empire and is said to be devastated by the consortium’s decision to withdraw.

Charnley’s statement suggests the club’s owner does not have much faith that a supposed willingness to pay £350m for Newcastle on the part of an investment group led by Henry Mauriss, a California-based American CEO of Clear TV, will come to fruition.

As with all parties claiming to have an interest in purchasing Newcastle – and there have been quite a few during Ashley’s 13-year tenture – he will demand Mauriss provide proof of funds before he takes his proposals seriously.

Mauriss first established contact with Ashley and the owner’s lieutenant Justin Barnes last November but scepticism surrounds Mauriss’s motives. In one sense Ashley’s unusually public attempts to revive the Saudi purchase plan have hurled the ball firmly into the American’s court, effectively challenging him to prove he is a genuine buyer.

Given the high degree of mistrust between PIF and the Premier League and the broadcast piracy-related complications which caused the original deal to stall, it is hard to envisage the Saudi-backed takeover being reignited.

The only options seem to be that the the billionaire Reuben brothers assume a controlling stake rather than the originally planned 10% or the Saudi involvement is reframed as stemming from a private individual or enterprise rather than the arguably state-controlled PIF. The blurred separation between PIF and the kingdom’s government proved a key stumbling block.

Meanwhile Chi Onwurah, the Labour MP for Newcastle Central, has said she will be writing to the Premier League in an attempt to discover “why they took so long” to reach a decision over the takeover and “gave so little clarity to Newcastle United fans”.

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