Kylian Mbappé, Ousmane Dembélé or maybe Lionel Messi? Many names have been traded since the controversial takeover of the traditional Newcastle United by a Saudi consortium.
Even Germany’s striker idol Thomas Müller was said to be on the wish list of the nouveau riche Premier League club. Ever since the Magpies were suddenly considered the richest football club in the world, a transfer hardly seems out of the question. But the reality is less spectacular. At least for now.
Newcastle between reality and future
As tables-16. Newcastle is in the middle of a relegation battle and – from a purely sporting point of view – is not yet an attractive address. In 21 league games, the team scored just 21 goals and conceded 43 at the same time. Even with the new coach Eddie Howe, who was signed as a beacon of hope at the beginning of November, things did not go uphill. Two wins in ten games under Howe is not enough for the club, whose famous fans include singer Sting and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Accordingly, the transfer offensive that has just been completed – especially in the winter – was not primarily about attracting the most prominent names to the industrial city, but about strengthening the fight to stay up in the league. That’s what the Magpies, who have lost worldwide sympathy since their takeover, did – and digged deep into their pockets for it. The club – or rather Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) – will pay an estimated £92m (approx. €110m) for five new signings. That’s almost a third of Premier League clubs’ total transfer spending this winter.
Club strengthens in a targeted manner in winter
In return, Newcastle secured the services of experienced England defender Kieran Trippier and Brazilian midfielder Bruno Guimarães – two players the competition would have liked to see in their ranks. Striker Chris Wood, centre-back Dan Burn, who played for the Magpies as a youngster, and defender Matt Targett, on loan from Aston Villa until the end of the season, all give the impression of a well-considered transfer policy at Tyneside. There was even praise for it in the British media.
Howe and his upgraded side now have 17 games to avoid relegation. The fact that Newcastle failed in the cup embarrassingly to Cambridge United, a team from the middle of the 3rd division, shouldn’t bother anyone. The focus is only on the Premier League, in which the very rich owners have higher long-term ambitions than staying up. The fans are already dreaming of winning the first championship since 1927.
But while sporting-stricken Newcastle supporters look to the future with hope, the Saudi takeover is viewed with great skepticism by the vast majority of English football fans – with the exception of Abu Dabi-funded Manchester City – and in society at large. The fact that the Premier League gave the green light at all causes incomprehension not only on the island and is a scandal for many.
Fans dream – a lot of criticism of the commitment
The head of the public investment fund is the crown prince and de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, who is accused of serious human rights violations. Amnesty International complains that Newcastle is being misused for sports washing, i.e. for polishing Saudi Arabia’s image through sport and concealing abuses in the desert state. Incidentally, the Magpies’ training camp was taking place there.
How the Premier League came to the conclusion that the PIF should be considered “separate from the state” – meaning that Saudi Arabia would not become the de facto owner of the football club – remains a mystery. Because the fund and the state are inextricably linked, which clearly contradicts the rules of the league.
Most Newcastle fans, who unabashedly celebrated the takeover with Saudi Arabian flags and Sheikh costumes, don’t care, nor do a few celebrity supporters, including club icon Alan Shearer and popular English presenter duo Ant and Dec. On the other hand, countless other football fans – and not only them – will no doubt be hoping that Newcastle United will have to go to the second-tier Championship at the end of the season.