The three richest – and, therefore, likely most successful – football clubs in Europe may well be all controlled by Arab states next season (at arm’s length, er, obviously) as the UK’s Premier League waves through the acquisition of Newcastle by a Saudi investment group, linked to the state.
The rather unlikely, although venerable, Newcastle will join Qatar’s PSG and Abu Dhabi’s Manchester City in the European (and hence world) financial elite. Qatar has already pinched the next FIFA World Cup.
All these states have big image problems, most notably over human rights. The current Saudi regime is linked to the murder of a Washington Post columnist in Turkey and widely blamed for much of the carnage in Yemen, as well as notorious for disagreeable antics at home. If the Saudis, as with Qatar and Abu Dhabi, were to mount a worldwide PR campaign it would cost them billions. Why not buy a football club and make friends among its new global fan base? It’s more fun, for a start.
Many Newcastle fans, glad to be rid of owner Mike Ashley, won’t care too much if at all. But the Premier League’s weak ownership regulations (and those of the other football authorities) have taken the so-called beautiful game into a murky place.