Saudi Arabia’s PIF in talks to purchase Newcastle United football club: Report

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Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), is in talks to buy UK Premier League football team Newcastle United for around $445 million, the Wall Street Journal reported people familiar with the matter as saying.

The PIF is the centerpiece of Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ambitious Vision 2030 program which seeks to change the fund into a giant investment vehicle to support the Kingdom’s economic diversification away from oil.

The PIF and a group of investors organized by British financier Amanda Stavely are in talks to buy Newcastle United, according to the Wall Street Journal’s sources. A final deal might not be reached for days or weeks and could still breakdown, they added.

The deal would mean a large cash injection into the football club, which could play a major role in improving the team’s performance. Newcastle fans have long bemoaned the lack of investment in a club which is known for its large and passionate support base.

“I can tell you that, historically (since 1990) the thing that has prevented Newcastle from becoming a bigger club has been the gulf in wealth between themselves and the top teams of the day,” said Brian Liddle, a fan of Newcastle United.

A Saudi takeover of Newcastle United could be compared with the purchase of Manchester City team by Abu Dhabi-owned City Football Group in 2008. City were transformed from a football club with a large fan base but mediocre team to one of Europe’s best sides who have since won the Premier League four times.

Staveley, who is leading the talks according to people familiar with the matter, was involved in the Manchester City deal. Staveley’s company will buy a 10 percent stake in Newcastle with her private wealth, British billionaires David and Simon Reuben will buy another 10 percent, and the PIF will buy the remainder, reported the Wall Street Journal.

Newcastle United is currently owned by British businessman, and CEO of sporting goods company Sports Direct, Mike Ashley, who bought the team in 2007 for $175 million.

Ashley has not been a popular owner with fans since his ownership began. Newcastle fans have protested against Ashley’s lack of investment in the club with some fan groups boycotting home games.

“The Mike Ashley era has been frustrating to say the least … The new owners, whoever they may be, I hope are willing to think long term, invest in the academy, and keep hold of standout players. I would love it if we could even compete with the top six teams,” said Mark Watts, a Newcastle United fan.

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