By: Akin Emmanuel
Some weeks back, news emerged that the English club, Newcastle has been bought by a three party association, comprising the PIF (Public Investment Fund), PCP Capital Partners and RB Sports and Media. The PIF unilaterally owns a significant 80% share of the club, while the other two parties scrambled for the minute 20%. While this has been a moment of uncontrollable hysteria from the Magpies – a nickname for Newscastle fans – it is yet another downward trend of how the sports has lost every of its moral basis.
Following years of accumulated frustrations and disgust from the 14-year ownership of the unpopular Mike Ashley, the Magpies can now dream again, but at the expense of an ownership rooted in the controversial waters of murder, dictatorship and abominable human right concerns that the English society and its football purportedly loathes. Additionally, besides the throng of human rights concerns, the 124- year old club is preened to follow the paths of PSG, Man City, and clubs with similar ownership model that has distorted the financial structure of football. In this piece, we will highlight three fundamental talking points following the seemingly historic Saudi-led takeover.
Sports Washing Or Goodwill?
Undeniably, this has been the fundamental concern of football stakeholders since the news broke out. Personally, it is left to be understood why Middle Eastern countries like Saudi and Qatar have displayed an unalloyed interest into European football. Their ownership, has been objectively seen is uninterested in whooping financial returns. Manchester City and PSG has had a net spend of almost £1bn as a result of an overtly aggressive model of recruitment, bloated wage structure and an outlandish spending on facilities.
However, even with this huge capital outlay, little can be identified to be financial returns. On the other hand, these Middle Eastern behemoths are historically known for religious conservatism, something that the European world has been significantly lacking for some centuries. Isn’t it contradictory that they are unreluctant to splurge a fortune on an investment that explicitly promotes gay and homosexuality? And lest we forget, the punitive measures tied to homosexuality, in Saudi Arabia is straightforward execution. It further begs the question on why these conservatives are committed to extreme leftist doctrines.
While many, with similar philosophical questionings have linked their interest to sports washing, a trend that seeks to wipe their ‘bad’ dealings by gleefully appealing to disgusted fans like the Magpies. It has also similarly being attributed to mere “goodwill” or an act of rivalry between the two historic Middle East nations; Qatar and Saudi Arabia. With a deposit of endless financial repository, these two nations are reportedly linked to wrestle their financial might for validation or superiority.
The Qataree investments which includes the aggressive will power of hosting the 2022 world cup even with obvious human right concerns that has left 15,000 workers dead in unimaginable labor conditions also owns PSG, the French based club that has recruited eminent players like Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar for a competitive silverware hunt. Similarly, The Saudi consortium, which is chaired by the crown prince; Mohamed Bin Salman, an embattled figure in the west, who has been reported to have masterminded the death of Kamal Khasogii, the US journalist. It isn’t coincidental that the reaction of Hatice Cengiz, the fiancée of the murdered journalist was blatantly vilifying, ” it is terrible to read that once again money has been more important than justice’.
Another Possible Football Financial Upturn?
Roughly four years ago, PSG sanctioned the deal of Neymar for a record breaking £222 million from FC Barcelona and it’d be a watershed moment in the distortion of football’s financial structure. Although, it could be argued that the saturation of money pumped into the sports has been the major reason for skyrocketing transfer prices, the influence of the Qataree sanctioned deal additionally has an effect almost as a whole. And, it must be stressed that it wasn’t a one-off. Kylian Mbappe then 19 would also be ‘loaned’ for €160 million, a deal which seconded Neymar’s record breaking move in the hierarchy of football transfer prices. While this was happening at the soil of Paris, the blue part of Manchester was also witnessing monetary football overhaul that has resulted into more than a billion pounds spent in transfers in just four years.
Obviously, a squad replete of players like Harry Kane, Erling Haaland, Bruno Fernandes comes at big prices, but who says the Saudi led consortium with an asset of £350 billion is not ready to splash the cash? Another possibly interesting development is how the new ownership investment will measure up to Financial Fair Play. Even though Mike Ashley, the preceding CEO has left the club in healthier condition, it cannot be underestimated how financially adventurous the Saudis could be.
Is Football’s New Order A Debacle?
Football, perhaps at the first time is now open to an unprecedented level of monetary Injection. Predicting this as a doomsday might seem like an overreaction or just deep nostalgia to the past but the paradigm shift is what should give everyone concern. Historically, the sports has been an avenue for fair competition and the expression of local nationalism and heritage. However, with the unrelenting infusion of money into sports, this trend are changing at an exponential rate.
Clubs are either being bought for purely commercial reasons borne out of the need for rivalry as in the Saudi’s case or for profit making like the Americans has showed. The desperate attempt by American investors, and Arab magnates to invest in European sports is spiraling a shift of concerning trends. For all the hypocrisy and performative bias associated with the Super League, football stakeholders have unambiguously shown to be obsessed with money even at the expense of fair competition.
What this implies for football – is the creation of a caste of highly powerful clubs with rich owners and an unassuming predilection to splurge the cash at the expense of smaller clubs who have no choice than to see their best legs poached. In other words, the gap between the Haves and Haves-nots in the football context is expected to increase significantly. In the next few years, football will be possibly controlled and dominated by the powers that be, the groups and individuals that can measure up to the Arab’s financial might. For all of these, another trend that is likely to be seen is how football clubs can be owned by individuals with no emotional attachment to clubs and even, an antecedence filled with questionable characters. If the Saudis, who obviously foment doctrines parallel to western values can legitimately own Newcastle then, who says the Taliban too can’t buy Burnley or Brighton?