Ready or Not: Newcastle United Are Now the Richest Club in England With High Ambitions

A Saudi Takeover of one of England's Most Famous Clubs Will Forever Change the Premier League's Big Six, and Potentially the European Pecking Order

Fast forward five years to 2026, when Erling Haaland has just bagged a brace against Real Madrid for Newcastle in the Champions League semi-final. He quips in his post game presser that it has always been a “dream of his” to play for a club with this ambition on a stage like the Champions League. Now rewind five years to 2016, when for the second time under the reign of former owner Mike Ashley, Newcastle were relegated by their rivals Sunderland, largely because they lost both their league games to their bitter foe. As we sit here today, Sunderland are toiling in League One, subject of a Netflix show about their shortcomings. Newcastle, sitting in 19th in the table, were facing a similar fate if something went drastically wrong with another relegation, unable to get back to the Premier League for years and years. Because of where Newcastle had been the last 14 years under Ashley, the fact the very first sentence of this article is now more likely than what followed it is something not even the most optimistic Newcastle supporter could have imagined.

Much has been made about the club being a “sleeping giant” of English football: Newcastle hasn’t won a trophy since 1955 or been to a cup final since 1999. But the club has always felt like the ultimate “what-if” case: What if we had the funding like the rest of the big six, what if we had proper ownership who invested into the club? The reason people wanted to know so badly is that Newcastle have shown signs in the past that they can become a big club. In the mid-1990s with starts like Andy Cole, Les Ferdinand and Alan Shearer, they twice finished runners up to Manchester United in the Premier League (blowing a 12 point lead in one of them,) and in the early 2000s finished fourth, third, and fifth in consecutive seasons. They played in the Champions League three times, once beating Barcelona at St. James’ Park. Football has changed a lot since then, but with good players and somewhat competent management, they got oh so close to winning a trophy. They even once finished fifth in the Premier League under Ashley.

All of this is to say that no matter how inept they’ve been for the past decade plus, with a rabid and loyal fanbase and one of the best stadiums in England, they’re never quite far off from being competitive and are the type of club that are attractive for takeover launches. Manchester City were in nearly an identical situation before they were taken over, a team that had been relegated a few times and saw its past trophy-winning glory in the 1950s and 1960s. City even lost a game 8-1 to Middlesbrough the season before the takeover. Within four seasons, they were Champions of England. Now imagine that same situation with an actual, rabid fanbase. The problem was never that Newcastle’s infrastructure was bad or that it is impossible to attract players there, it was that Ashley didn’t want to sell and was using the club to fund his Sports Direct operation. He also alienated club legends like Shearer, had hilariously bad managerial appointments like Alan Pardew, Steve Bruce and Steve McClaren, and ran off their one good manager in Rafa Benitez because he couldn’t give him the budget for transfers or academy investments. Bare minimum investment led to bare minimum expectations: just survive relegation.

One of the reasons this takeover feels so different to the likes of Chelsea or Manchester City is that despite Chelsea’s success before the 2003 takeover, fan support was fickle at best and it never truly felt like a club that could be on the same level as Man United or Arsenal at the time. Despite FA Cup and UEFA Cup wins, Chelsea didn’t have the same support except in the Fulham area and never got closer than third in the Premier League title race. They were largely a yo-yo club before this, getting relegated several times and barely drawing fan support to their games. Chelsea never had the “big club” feeling, which is why when Roman Abramovich stepped in and they started winning everything the country didn’t view their success or sudden fan interest as authentic. Chelsea did win more trophies than Newcastle, but the perception of the clubs were not the same at this time. Manchester City faced similar relegation troubles and did pack 35,000 into old Maine Road, but they never were viewed as legit title contenders before the takeover either, Newcastle often were. Man City still struggles to fill their stadium with fans and despite winning five Premier League titles, very few people actually hold them in high regard.

While I get the criticism about to come Newcastle’s way if they achieve the same success as Chelsea or City as being the same bankrolled silverware, they’ve at least built up some cache and respect for the club culture and status beforehand. Don’t believe me? Take a look at Rafa Benitez, who before arriving at Newcastle had just come off managing Liverpool and Real Madrid. They get relegated, and a manager of his status is willing to stay another year and manage them IN THE CHAMPIONSHIP to help them get back up with little funding. That stuff does not happen almost anywhere else. Unfortunately, his demands to at least get a little more money to build a more competitive squad were rebuked and he ended up departing the position. So i’m not saying Newcastle were some behemoth before this, but it just feels different due to the passion of the fans. It just does. It feels very Liverpool-like due to the hard working nature of people in the Northeast, and they finally deserve a competitive squad again. They are the least accomplished team trophy wise that still feels like a big club, and any investor who has smarts can see that there is something worth investing in with this club, just as City and Chelsea had their own allure at the time due to their long title droughts.

Rumors of this Saudi-led consortium popped up in the summer of 2020 and it seemed like it had gained real traction, only to be blocked by the Premier League under mysterious circumstances. As much as the human rights issues were dominating the headlines, these were not the issues the Premier League actually cared about. If they were in the business of caring about moral ownership, Manchester City, Chelsea, and Arsenal’s owners would all be kicked out of the Premier League. They wan’t owners who expand the league’s profile in various markets and do it in a way that makes the league look the best as possible. Stan Kroneke and John W. Henry and the Glazers have the American market, Roman Abramovich has the Russian market, Shiekh Mansour has the United Arab Emirates, Leicester City and Wolves have the Asian market, etc. You’re kidding yourself if you think the Premier League would have simply turned down a chance to have one of their clubs owned by the most powerful business people in Saudi Arabia, with that much money at stake.

The real reason it dragged on so long was simply a dispute over TV rights. BeIN sports, a Qatari-owned company, owns the rights to the Premier League in the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa) and because of political disputes between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the Saudi government banned BeIN from being shown in the the country. What followed was several investigations into Premier League matches being shown illegally in Saudi Arabia, with piracy being rampant and ultimately being a deal breaker for the Premier League to approve. It was against their direct business interests to have a club ownership in large part be responsible for pirating games, so until this was resolved it was not going to get approved. Then, just this week, it got approved and the takeover was completed with warp speed. And with that, Newcastle are far and away the richest club in England and one of the richest in Europe just in the matter of 48 hours. Its been reported that other clubs are furious for allowing the takeover to happen, but it isn’t for the moral reasons you might think. It’s simply due to the fact that their clubs place in the table is now at risk.

Newcastle fans have long accused media in England of flat out ignoring them or not giving them the same level of exposure as clubs in London or Manchester, and the original takeover denial was thought by many as executives from other clubs attempting to shut them out of the big six. Now, with owners who have billions in assets and a new mindset to invest into the club’s academy and training facilities, there’s no reason to believe Newcastle won’t win a title within the next five seasons. Teams like Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal who are just doing the bare minimum to be competitive year in and year out are feeling some type of way because the spots on the table that used to be reserved for them are no longer a sure thing anymore. How we view the “big clubs” in English football are set to change forever, and from a competitive standpoint I think that is a good thing. But what fans may not realize now is just the grand scale of how rich these owners are, and the impact it can have on the region as a whole.

The Public Investment Fund (PIF) of Saudi Arabia is estimated to have 500 billon pounds of assets, and with their 80% controlling stake in the club, chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan has pledged to invest. British business tycoons Jamie Rueben and Amanda Staveley are also pledged to help invest locally to build up the area around the stadium, similar to how Manchester City created the Etihad campus to finance women’s football and the youth academy. I have no doubt the owners will do these things they promise, but fans and the Premier League themselves feel uneasy about the alliance between the Saudi government and Newcastle, claiming it “sportswashing.” This basically means a corrupt regime is using a high level business interest to do PR for their country, and to cover up human rights abuses. Listen, is some of this going on? Absolutely. Despite legal agreements between the Premier League and the PIF that the Saudi government and royal kingdom would not be in direct control of the club, Mohammad bin-Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, is listed as the Deputy Prime Minister of the PIF. Don’t kid yourself, he’s going to be involved.

Normally large, influential government or business figures didn’t get there by accident, many of them are smart and calculated. Sure, bin-Salman won’t be on Newcastle’s board making direct investments from the Saudi kingdom, but Newcastle is about to take a page out of Manchester City’s playbook: Use high level sponsorship deals (likely from PIF-invested companies-Uber and Reliance Retail are two big ones) to pump money into the club with enormous amounts, and then write them off as other business related expenses so they don’t get in trouble. Man City did this with Etihad airways and other UAE PR firms, and while the investment didn’t come directly from Shiekh Mansour himself, the companies he owned sent them in and that money comes from the state. Newcastle is about to get a ton of money from sponsorships, and the Premier League won’t do anything about it. I promise. Bin-Salman’s involvement is problematic because the US Central Intelligence Agency claims he put a direct bounty on the head of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed after he wrote articles critical of the Saudi government. The level of moral comfort Newcastle fans have about this will be up to them, but we have to acknowledge it exists.

As for managers and players, Steve Bruce will likely be sacked very quickly so the new owners can bring their own manager in. It’s going to be important for the club to hit on this first appointment, and bring in a steady manager like Roberto Mancini to help the club grow into title contenders. Would someone like Frank Lampard, with a good track record of managing young players, fit that mold? Maybe, but I wouldn’t expect A-list managers to come right away like Antonio Conte. They now have the money to lure anyone, but a Pep Guardiola-like appointment won’t come for years. Young talents like Joe Willock and Allan St. Maximin will likely survive the impending squad purge, but the ownership will quickly realize that this team is sitting 19th for a reason and much of the squad will need to go. The climate is much different than when City and PSG had their takeovers, and the amount of spending will be watched under a microscope. For the first time, Financial fair play, not the amount of money the ownership has, is Newcastle’s direct opposition to success. And when you are now at the top, the rules aren’t meant to punish these type of clubs.

Financial fair play is meant to punish teams with semi-rich owners who vastly overspend to try to achieve success. Clubs like AC Milan and Malaga vastly outspent their revenue year after year and failed to qualify for competitions to help replenish the budget. As such, both were banned for a year from European competition. Man City was set to face a European ban, but for some unknown reason they just got a deferred fine of $40 million. PSG and City both have large influence over UEFA and it isn’t unfair to say their prestige and vast amounts of wealth can make them appear profitable on documents because of prior mentioned sponsorships. By a funny twist of fate, because Mike Ashley was so cheap and didn’t spend hardly anything during his tenure, Newcastle are actually one of the few clubs who are still profitable post-COVID pandemic. And because their spending hasn’t exceeded revenue for years, the new owners can come into the January window and spend $190 million without FFP ramifications. So, thanks Mike Ashley?

Bottom line is, the ownership knows it needs to survive this season and not get relegated. It’s bad for business. So expect them to drop the hammer this January and bring in players to help them stay up. No, Haaland or Mbappe won’t be on Tyneside just yet, but solid, established players— similar to City landing Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez and David Silva— are of priority. Building up the youth academy at the same time is important to bring through Phil Foden or Jadon Sancho level talents. This will take time but is a very important part of any club. The main priority is to build up the first batch of Newcastle mainstays under the ownership, and they have the advantage of using the Man City template to take lessons from what went right and wrong. Within four years, City were Premier League Champions, they would later win four after that the next decade, make a champions league final, become a huge global brand and win several FA Cups and League Cups. With promotion from club legends, an even bigger budget, a rabid fanbase and ruthless owners, it’s totally realistic to expect a Haaland-level player to lead them to glory for the first time in nearly 70 years. This type of good fortune just doesn’t happen to clubs like Newcastle. It never used to at least, and then a genie out of nowhere came to take the club away from an inept owner. Ethical and moral issues? Yes, the ownership will be made to answer for these. But on the pitch, the black and white stripes are about to run a jailbreak on England and Europe. And from that point of view, I’m not sure there’s another fanbase that deserves that more.