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▶ Newcastle set to become the Premier League titan they have long threatened to be [2020/04/25   ]

They have had more botched takeovers than you’ve had hot meals, but Newcastle United appear to be in the home straight in their quest for new ownership.

British retail entrepreneur Mike Ashley has owned the Magpies since 2007, but has failed to develop a rapport with the Geordie faithful, due to a lack of investment into the team that has led to more relegations than successes.

Fans feel that he cares more about his controversial retail empire, and that he does not understand the club or its people. The supporters in the North East of England even resent the fact that he, and the people he put in charge at the club, are from the South of England. (Just like the north distrusts the elite south in “Game of Thrones,” the Geordies refer to their unpopular owner and his ilk as the “cockney mafia.”)

The perennially abhorred Ashley has tried to unload the club on several occasions, coming close to sealing an agreement with the Abu Dhabi ruling family last summer.

Ashley is undoubtedly one of the least popular owners in the game, but his unpopularity is likely to be eclipsed by the majority stakeholder in the Toon’s latest $375 million takeover deal.

If the deal goes through, the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia will hold an 80 percent stake in the club, with 10 percent ownership going to financier Amanda Staveley and multi-billionaire real estate investors David and Simon Reuben.

Due to Saudi Arabia’s poor human rights record and multiple breaches of international law, their investment in Newcastle puts the hatred of Ashley into a new perspective. (After all, for his faults, the famously reclusive businessman has never committed a genocide in Yemen or murdered a journalist with a bone saw.)

Accordingly, Amnesty International condemned the takeover, in what may be seen as the legitimization of a murderous regime. It is completely reasonable to be concerned about the slow creep of soft power and illicit wealth into top-tier soccer — but it is also important to note that we as soccer fans have long been complicit in this unedifying charade.

Manchester City, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain fans are among those who enjoy the spoils of a team funded by ethically dubious sources. And in all the noise around the Newcastle takeover, it seems to have been forgotten that the Premier League already has a Saudi-backed team: Sheffield United are fully owned by Saudi Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

Italian and Spanish Super Cups are held in Saudi Arabia, along with major boxing events and proposed Formula 1 races. This does not make Newcastle’s takeover any less controversial, but it suggests that it is possible for Newcastle fans to simultaneously couple a sense of concern with excitement for the future.

The change of ownership will make Newcastle the richest team in the Premier League — the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia is worth a reported $393 billion — which gives them the potential to become the titan they have always threatened to be.

Newcastle is a one-team town, whose fans fill the 52,000-capacity St. James’ Park rain or shine, Premier League or Championship. The stadium is frequently cited as having the best atmosphere in the Premier League, but the incredible match-day experience stands in stark contrast to the team’s success.

The Magpies have not won a major trophy since the 1955 FA Cup.

They came closest to glory in the mid-90s, when they were within touching distance of winning the Premier League. In 1995-96, Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle side held a 12-point lead over rivals Manchester United by January, but still managed to finish second. Keegan’s unravelling was famously captured in a post-match interview, in which he proclaimed: “I’d love it if we beat them!”

Newcastle responded by breaking the world transfer record for hometown hero Alan Shearer in the following summer — for a £15 million (roughly $18.4 million) fee that seems quaint by today’s standards — but only managed to finish runner-up once again in 1996-97.

The Magpies’ greatest dalliance with continental glory came in the 1997-98 season, where they defeated a Barcelona side featuring Luis Figo, Rivaldo and Luis Enrique, courtesy of a Faustino Asprilla hat trick.

In the last two decades, however, the pickings have been slim when it comes to success. In Ashley’s 13 seasons at the helm, the club has only finished in the top half of the table twice. They have also been relegated twice — an unfathomable embarrassment for a club of their size.

Given the size of their fanbase and their stature in the modern game, Newcastle are easily the biggest underachievers in soccer. Many vaunted European sides bat below their average, but none come close to the Magpies.

But that script may be destined to change in the coming seasons.

With a considerable cash injection, at a time when rivals may be struggling to balance the books, Newcastle could invest in the kind of players who could live up to the tremendous roar that emanates from the Gallowgate on match days. Think Kylian Mbappe, rather than Joelinton.

Of course, it is possible that Newcastle’s new owners will hold the purse strings as tight as Ashley. After all, Sheffield United’s Saudi owners have not flooded the club with money, while Queens Park Rangers weren’t exactly Champions League contenders when they were majority-owned by Lakshmi Mittal, one of the richest people in the world.

But it is now possible for Newcastle to fulfill their destiny as a European contender. They can finally reward their long-suffering fanbase with the level of soccer that their unwavering passion deserves.

Perhaps the Premier League Big Six could become a Big Seven. Juventus may not be the only Champions League regulars in black and white. And the Premier League trophy might be engraved with a new name.

Newcastle will continue to receive bad press for welcoming Saudi money — and perhaps rightly so. But recent history has taught us that soccer fans are willing to overlook the involvement of dubious owners, poorly behaved players or unethically sourced financial resources if it equates to success.

In the modern game, it is impossible for any team to gain a seat at the top table of European soccer, among the “heritage teams,” without a large injection of cash. Newcastle already has the fanbase and infrastructure required to dine at that table, and if the takeover goes through, they will also be able to pay the check.

- The origianl text resource is from Yahoo Sports

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