Fans of British football club Sheffield United took to social media to express support and happiness at the news Wednesday that the club would be taking back ownership of its football stadium as part of the strategy of the club’s owner Saudi Arabia's Prince Abdullah Bin Mosaad Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.
The stadium had been owned by the club’s previous co-owner with Prince Abdullah, Kevin McCabe, but McCabe was ordered by a High Court to sell his 50 percent share to Prince Abdullah, after a legal battle which lasted over 20 months in September 2019.
“Sheffield United Football Club Limited is very pleased to announce that with effect from July 1, 2020, it is the new owner of the Bramall Lane stadium, the Shirecliffe training facility, the hotel, the enterprise center and the Crookes junior academy,” a statement from the club read.
“Wonderful, thank you to the Prince and we look forward to a bright and successful future under his stewardship,” Twitter user Rob Dyson wrote in response.
Wonderful, thank you to the Prince and we look forward to a bright and successful future under his stewardship UTB— Rob Dyson (@dysonblade) July 1, 2020
“Great news, hopefully we can now put this ownership saga behind us, move forward and look to a bright future,” user Batts wrote.
Another, Allison Pearson, simply said, “Fantastic news.”
Fantastic news 😍👏🏻— Allison Pearson❤️⚔️ (@allip75) July 1, 2020
Fans also took to expressing their support for the ownership of Prince Abdullah and the reintegration of the club’s assets.
“Best owner we’ve had,” user exiledfromsheff said.
“Great news - well done Prince Abdullah and family. Everything you have done since taking over has been fantastic,” user Phil Whitaker added.
Great news - well done Prince Abdullah and family. Everything you have done since taking over has been fantastic. What about the land behind the Kop? Secure that extend the Kop, the South Stand too and build the new training ground and you will be legends!— Phil Whitaker (@pwhitaker_1966) July 1, 2020
The reunification of the properties back into the ownership of the club is an “important step” in the long-term strategy of Prince Abdullah to claim ownership and improve key assets, the club added in its statement.
“When I assumed sole ownership of the Club nine months ago, I committed myself to preserving the Club's heritage, upgrading the Club's physical assets and improving the fan experience,” Prince Abdullah said, according to the statement.
“We now look forward to capitalising on this important step as we establish the Blades in the Premier League.— Sheffield United (@SheffieldUnited) July 1, 2020
We’ll have more good news soon.”
- H.R.H Prince Abdullah pic.twitter.com/tKQ7UD9fIj
“The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly brought unexpected challenges, but we remain dedicated to our original strategy and bringing the stadium and other properties under the ownership of the Club is an important step in executing on this strategy,” Prince Abdullah explained.
“We now look forward to capitalizing on this important step as we establish the Blades in the Premier League. We'll have more good news soon,” he concluded.
Saudi Arabia invests in football
The positive reaction to Prince Abdullah’s strategy for Sheffield United bodes well for the talks involving Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF) buying an 80 percent stake in UK Premier League football team Newcastle United.
Now that Sheffield United have seen firsthand what major investment in their team can do, it may pave the way for the Premier League, Newcastle United managers, and fans to see the benefits of having the backing of the PIF’s significant reserves.
In fact, Newcastle United fans have been supportive for PIF’s bid. A survey conducted by the club’s trust in April, 96.7 percent of the fans supported Saudi Arabia’s proposal.
In Newcastle’s case, there is a strong appetite for takeover stemming from a sense that the club is underperforming due to mismanagement by the current owner, Mike Ashley.
Under Ashley the club has suffered on the pitch too, which fans blame on a lack of investment. Despite returning to the top-flight of the Premier League in 2017, the club has not returned to its recent heights of the 1990s and early 2000s, when the club was one of the biggest in England.
The club may be in need of an owner with deep pockets, able to weather the storm of low revenue while building the club into a successful, and highly valued, property.
“The spending power of PIF and the Reuben Brothers considerably dwarfs anything Ashley or any other previous owners of the club could offer, and the expectation is that this would be reflected in player purchases,” Aymen Khoury, Partner at European law firm, Fieldfisher, told Al Arabiya English earlier this year.
It is common for British and European football clubs to be have foreign owners, many of whom including Chelsea’s Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich and Paris Saint-Germain’s Qatari owners have been questioned for their records off the field.
The PIF meanwhile is an investment fund with a mandate to grow the Kingdom’s funds and invest in new and exciting areas that Saudi Arabia has previously avoided. The fund has previously invested in technology companies such as Tesla-competitor Lucid Motors, and holds a five percent stake in ride-sharing company Uber.