Newcastle set sights on trophies after Saudi-backed takeover ends Ashley era

Newcastle United’s controversial Saudi-led owners have set their sights on winning the Premier League and European trophies after completing their £300m takeover.

As an estimated 15,000 fans gathered at St James’ Park on Thursday night to celebrate, human rights organisations fiercely criticised the Premier League’s decision to approve the buyout of Mike Ashley.

The league said a consortium led by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and also including the businesswoman Amanda Staveley and billionaire property developers Simon and David Reuben had provided “legally binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control Newcastle United”.

Staveley faced the media to outline the owners’ ambitions and offered no guarantees over the future of Steve Bruce. The manager is expected to be sacked, with Antonio Conte understood to be the top target to replace him. The Italian, who led Chelsea to the title in 2017, is out of work after leaving Internazionale. He has also won Serie A with Inter and Juventus.

Staveley said: “Our ambition is aligned with the fans – to create a consistently successful team that’s regularly competing for major trophies and generates pride across the globe.” She was forthright when asked whether the Premier League title was the long-term aim, telling Sky Sports News: “Absolutely … Newcastle United is the best team in the world. We want to see it get those trophies, obviously. At top of the Premier League, in Europe, but to get trophies means patience, investment, time.”

Newcastle have not won a major trophy since 1969 and the priority is to pull the team out of the relegation zone, starting at home to Tottenham a week on Sunday. Staveley declined to confirm Bruce would be in the dugout but said: “We’re very supportive of Steve and we’ve spoken to him.”

After a difficult two years in charge, Bruce seemed resigned to his fate, telling the Telegraph: “New owners normally want a new manager. I’ve been around long enough to understand that. That decision is not up to me. I accept that and I will accept what comes my way. I have to wait to have those conversations with people when the time is right.”

Staveley and Jamie Reuben – the son of David Reuben – have been confirmed as directors and Yasir al-Rumayyan, the governor of PIF, will be the nonexecutive chairman. He is the only Saudi presence on the board even though PIF, the country’s sovereign wealth fund overseen by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, owns 80% of the club. The remaining 20% is split evenly between RB Sports & Media, part of the Reuben Brothers empire, and PCP Capital Partners, led by Staveley and her husband, the British-Iranian financier Mehrdad Ghodoussi.

Rumayyan said: “We are extremely proud to become the new owners of Newcastle United, one of the most famous clubs in English football. We thank the Newcastle fans for their tremendously loyal support over the years and we are excited to work together with them.”

A new training ground and enhanced academy are expected to be among the early priorities, and hundreds of millions of pounds is in line to be invested in wider community and regional regeneration projects in the north-east. If many Newcastle fans are conflicted about the club having fallen into Saudi hands, Ashley’s departure saw thousands crack open the stashes of alcohol stockpiled in readiness for a long-dreamed celebration marking Newcastle’s sale.

There was a strong backlash from human rights groups, with Amnesty UK’s chief executive, Sacha Deshmukh, saying the deal represented “a clear attempt by the Saudi authorities to sportswash their appalling human rights record with the glamour of top-flight football”.

Staveley defended her Saudi allies, saying PIF was “an autonomous, commercially-driven investment fund” and “a great partner for Newcastle”. She said: “Anybody that has any issues they know we’re here and they need to come talk to us.”

The keys of St James’ Park were handed to owners capable of transforming Newcastle into one of the world’s wealthiest clubs after Saudi Arabia lifted its ban on the Qatar-based beIN Sports. This allows Premier League, Uefa and Fifa matches to be broadcast legally again, and the Gulf kingdom has also promised to close pirate websites operating in the country.

The Saudi commerce minister and acting media minister, Majid bin Abdullah al-Qasabi, is understood to have played a key role in brokering the takeover. Once the Premier League was satisfied the Saudi state would not be involved in the day-to-day running of Newcastle the consortium passed its owners’ and directors’ test. “All parties are pleased to have concluded this process,” the league said.