Sportswashing has never been easier – but the Saudis hit oil again with the spirit of Newcastle

It was easy for Amanda Staveley and PIF to get Newcastle fans to buy into their project – but the owners must never spoil the unity that currently drives the Magpies…

Say what you owe on the Saudi PIF – and there are many things that absolutely must be said and repeated loud and clear – but the owners of Newcastle play a blinder with their football club.

It’s been just over six months since Amanda Staveley walked into St James’s Park with the world’s most powerful checkbook in her briefcase, and the transformation has been stunning.

PIF, Staveley and the Reuben Brothers bought a wreck – a club tearing each other apart with a team doing the same, showing more fighting between them on the training ground than on the pitch, while tumbling towards the Championship.

Now look at them. A finish in the first half seems trivial without the context of Newcastle’s first half of the season. Given that, it’s hard to argue against Eddie Howe being named manager of the year.

“Something special is moving at St James’ Park. Buckle up,” was the warning from Newcastle’s Twitter account on Tuesday night accompanied by the latest and grandest of their much-maligned post-victory team photos, this one featuring the players, staff, their families and a background of around 9,000 Geordies on the Gallowgate.

It’s true. With absolutely everyone – players, fans, local media, Ant and Dec – interested in Newcastle’s fortunes having signed on to the PIF project, something very special is brewing on Tyneside. And everything was so easy.

If there was ever a club ripe for this kind of takeover, it’s Ashley-era Newcastle United – the ramshackle focal point of a one-team, football-mad city full of desperate fans to feel something other than apathy and resentment. towards the people who lead and manage their club.

Apologies if this tweet caused your lunch to reappear, but it’s no wonder Staveley remained so determined to get a deal done, even though the Premier League offered the impression of resistance as long as they had piracy issues on its product in Saudi Arabia. . Staveley could see the opportunity. Couldn’t everyone?

Granted, not everyone has the PIF means or motivation to take down Ashley’s legacy and everything they hope they might lose, and left the manual on how do not to run a football club, Staveley and his cronies could hardly fail in the first phase.

They haven’t gone the wrong way yet in the eyes of the majority of Newcastle fans, and the North East’s adoration of their Saudi overloads has allowed the owners to push their luck a bit. The Saudi-themed third kit for next season is proof of that. Some Newcastle fans feel a little uneasy about it; most don’t care; many more will buy it to wear with tea towels on their heads.


Ian King: Are the Saudis wearing a Newcastle shirt on a mast to see if it will fly?


As long as the owners of Newcastle are saying the right things and doing the right things when it comes to their football club, it is hard to see the spirit that has been generated on Tyneside dissipating. And that, despite all the money and oil in Saudi Arabia, is the strongest force behind Newcastle right now.

We have seen it elsewhere. Jurgen Klopp gave Liverpool reason to believe, while Marcelo Bielsa prompted a similar buy-in at Leeds United. While in Merseyside and West Yorkshire the unifying figure was the manager, in Tyneside it is Staveley who is the face of Newcastle owners.

As all three clubs have demonstrated, the by-product of such solidarity is success. Yet so few clubs and owners seem capable of harnessing such energy. Or maybe they just don’t want to, for fear of losing power.

PIF’s motivation for the project and the somewhat unique nature of Newcastle required the Toon Army base to sign up and buy immediately. Luckily, they were so desperate for change and genuine hope that they weren’t wooed. If a black-and-white-striped Vladimir Putin had waved Ashley, fired Steve Bruce, put money in the transfer kitty and promised a team worthy of that support, some ushanka-clad fans might look away from his other interests.

Of course, that would be the silly fringe that every club carries among their fans. But it doesn’t take much for most fans to feel invested. The PIF showered Newcastle fans with the attention they needed, and gestures as simple as Staveley’s husband Mehrad Ghodoussi waving a flag were elated. “If there was a symbol of how far we’ve come over the past six months, this is it,” said Wor Flags member Thomas Concannon.

This serves to underscore how neglected they were during Ashley’s stewardship. No more fooling him. And nobody can blame Newcastle fans for once again enjoying their notoriety, with the atmosphere at St James’ Park every bit as potent as what you’ll see and hear at Anfield and elsewhere.

There are few clubs in Europe more united than Newcastle at the moment and, crucially, perhaps none with that harmony coupled with unlimited resources to match their ambition. But unity, whatever its harvest, is the key ingredient. We see at PSG what happens when it is forgotten. Staveley and PIF would be mad to make the same mistake later once the honeymoon period has passed, while other owners could benefit – and profit – from looking to replicate the emotion of St James.

About Leni Loberns

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