The Daily Telegraph - Business : 2020-07-28

Sport : 11 : 3

Sport

3 The Daily Telegraph Tuesday 28 July 2020 ** Newcastle takeover ‘gridlock’ as buyers fail to ease doubts Exclusive By Luke Edwards and Jason Burt The proposed takeover of Newcastle United by a Saudi Arabian-led consortium is deadlocked because of concerns over the new ownership structure and who would have the final say in the decision-making process at the club. Current owner Mike Ashley accepted a £300million offer in April, with the expectatio­n that the deal would be confirmed by the Premier League a few weeks later. Instead, to the consternat­ion of Newcastle fans desperate for a change of ownership, the takeover is now into a 17th week of scrutiny under the Premier League’s owners’ and directors’ test. In turn, Ashley has been talking to American businessma­n Henry Mauriss since the start of the month and it is understood he is free to sell to another buyer after the exclusivit­y deal with the Saudi-led consortium, which involved the payment of a deposit, expired. Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund is attempting to acquire an 80 per cent stake in Newcastle, with financier Amanda Staveley, who has brokered the deal, receiving 10 per cent and the Reuben family, represente­d by Jamie Reuben, buying the remaining 10 per cent. Talks with the Premier League are now said to have stalled, with sources saying that the buyers are struggling to satisfy the organisati­on, which appears to want greater clarity on the link between the PIF and the Saudi state. At the heart of the matter is the long-running legal dispute the Premier League has had with the Saudi government over illegal streaming of English football and other sporting events. The issue was further confused recently when Saudi Arabia banned BeIN, the Qatari-based internatio­nal rights holder in the Middle East, from broadcasti­ng in the country, which means it is now impossible to legally watch Premier League matches in the kingdom. In turn, Saudi Arabia had released statements saying it would crack down on websites, such as the pirate BeoutQ, which have been illegally showing sporting events in the hope that it would convince the Premier League it was not backing the activities. The takeover has not been officially rejected, but there is dwindling confidence that it will go through in its present form. One source told that it was “gridlocked”. The source added: “As things stand, there is no chance of the takeover progressin­g in its current form. The problem is this: the Premier League want to know who will be running the club, who will have the final say on decisions, who will negotiate sponsorshi­p deals and so on and so on. “The PIF has the majority stake but the management structure does not seem to recognise that. The more questions that have been asked, the more muddled and confused it becomes. “The Premier League is not satisfied with the answers given.” The answers so far provided by the buyers do not appear to have persuaded the Premier League that it can allow the takeover to go through as it stands. The crux of the problem appears to remain that the Premier League is unconvince­d by the argument the PIF is independen­t of the Saudi government and is insisting on the link being made clearer. The buyers have continued to claim that the PIF is a separate legal entity to the Saudi state, an argument apparently undermined by the fact Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s de facto ruler, is chairman of the fund. The PIF is understood to have continued to maintain that it is an independen­t investment vehicle. It is understood that Staveley would be in day-to-day charge of the business. Three-fifths of the board would be made up of Saudi representa­tives. Jamie Reuben would also be on the board. Owen Brown, an adviser and friend of former Newcastle manager Rafael Benitez, has also been involved in meetings. It is understood the structure was designed to put some distance between the club and the government officials on the PIF board. Rather than serious concerns over Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, it has been the issue of piracy that has complicate­d the deal. Nine attempts to take legal action by the Premier League were blocked in Saudi Arabia before the takeover bid was launched, while a report by the World Trade Organisati­on ruled the Saudi Arabia government had facilitate­d and promoted the illegal streaming. When contacted by the Premier League refused to deny claims the takeover talks had reached an impasse, before replying with a “no comment” to additional questions about whether it intended to block it. The Daily Telegraph The Telegraph, Discussion­s with Kepa after Cup final as Lampard stays focused Page 1 pect of them recouping anything close to that. Chelsea must, therefore, decide whether to try to find a buyer at a reduced price or attempt to send the Spain internatio­nal on a longterm loan and accept that they will have to pay a percentage of his wages. Should Kepa remain, then Lampard will still push to sign a new goalkeeper, which means Kepa will most likely be stuck on the substitute­s’ bench, with his value further decreasing next season. The situation is a delicate one for Lampard and Chelsea, who will hold talks on Kepa’s future following the Cup final as this week will City’s failure to qualify for the Champions League will improve their prospects of signing Ben Chilwell, but his club would have to drop their £80million valuation of the left-back. Lampard will have to sell a leftback, either Marcos Alonso or Emerson Palmieri, in order to sign a replacemen­t and will also need to offload a centre-back if he opts to bring in a new one. Chelsea are interested in West Ham United’s Declan Rice and have scouted Atletico Madrid’s Jose Gimenez. While the departure of Pedro has now been confirmed, Lampard wants Chelsea to extend Willian’s contract past the end of this season. Bayern nor Real Madrid will rival Chelsea for his signature this year. That leaves Chelsea in a strong negotiatin­g position, particular­ly as Havertz has indicated that he wants to team up with Rudiger and Werner, who trained for the first time at Cobham yesterday. While Lampard has been clear in his desire to sign Havertz, he also signalled that he wanted to replace Kepa by leaving him out of the team who beat Wolverhamp­ton Wanderers in the final game of the season. Chelsea spent £72 million, a world-record fee for a goalkeeper, to sign Kepa and there is no prosFrom be dedicated to preparing the squad to face Arsenal at Wembley. It is unlikely Kepa will regain his place from Willy Caballero. Chelsea will hope that Leicester

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