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Premier League | The Kiss Of The Saudi Crown Prince

A Saudi Arabian state fund is buying the traditional club Newcastle United that has been left behind and is hoping for great times. The fans don't seem to care who wants to wash their image.

They lay in each other's arms, started chants, beer mugs flew. But the 15,000 fans who gathered in front of Newcastle United's stadium did not celebrate a goal. They celebrated the news, which could be worth a lot more than any single win because it could result in hundreds of wins: the Premier League has waved through the latest deal in world football after some discussion. A consortium led by a Saudi Arabian mutual fund is allowed to buy Newcastle.

Newcastle United is a traditional English club. In the far north-east of England, football is even more of a religion than in the rest of the football-mad country. But for a long time there wasn't much to celebrate there. In the region itself, which is one of the poorest in England, and also around the club. Since two runners-up in the nineties it went there, twice the club was relegated from the Premier League. The fans had to watch as football capitalism let many others pass them by. Above all Manchester City with the money from Abu Dhabi or Chelsea FC, supported from the deep pockets of Roman Abramowitsch.

Read also: Top 10 Richest Soccer Owners In The World

"Why not us?" Asked the Newcastle fans. And it can be explained by this desperation that they cheer the new investor so exuberantly. With the deal, a new illustrious figure joins the ranks of the very wealthy oligarchs and football sheiks. Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is deputy prime minister and defense minister and de facto also head of government, as well as chairman of his country's state investment fund. This Public Investment Fund (PIF) will soon own 80 percent of the club's shares.

The Crown Prince is not only rich, he also likes to arrest critics of the regime, including those from his own family. According to the CIA, he is said to have ordered the murder of the critical journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was sawed up in 2018 in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul. Bin Salman denies that.

The Premier League had long hesitated to enter into the deal believing Saudi Arabia itself would control the club. These concerns have now been dispelled, it said, because the state investment fund is not the state itself - although it is chaired by the head of state. Incidentally, the problem with Saudi Arabia was not human rights violations. Moral or political principles play no role in the assessment. The league was about the money. A pirate channel had been established in Saudi Arabia that shows Premier League games without paying for them. This should hit the TV channel BeIn Sports from the warring neighbor Qatar. But Saudi Arabia has now agreed to allow beIN Sports and the pirate channels have stopped broadcasting.

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Newcastle United is not the fund's only investment. He also owns parts of Boeing, Citigroup and Facebook. Saudi Arabia has a variety of business relationships around the world. Germany exports goods worth almost six billion euros to the country every year. Until 2018, Saudi Arabia was one of the most important recipients of German armaments. It was not until the war in Yemen and the murder of Khashoggi that arms exports stopped.

Nevertheless, the investment in football is different. It's not about making money there. It's not that easy in football. States like Qatar, Abu Dhabi and now Saudi Arabia see sport primarily as a vehicle to improve their image. There is hardly a better instrument for this than football, the global game with its stars and emotions. Amnesty International calls this phenomenon sportswashing.

And there is a lot to wash: the war in Yemen, the persecution of opponents, executions, corporal punishment such as lashing with a stick (including against blogger Raif Badawi), torture, discrimination against women, the imprisonment of women's rights activists. Compared to the situation of guest workers, the neighbor from Qatar seems almost progressive. Human rights groups are the only ones audibly protesting the deal.

The fans, on the other hand, dream. The assets of the Saudi Arabian fund are estimated at around 370 billion euros. In the ranking of the super-rich club owners, Newcastle takes first place by a wide margin. It is quite possible that Crown Prince bin Salman will also make Newcastle United the Crown Prince of football.

Read also: Newcastle United: A Saudi-backed Consortium Takeover Completed

Newcastle are currently on a relegation zone. The coach Steve Bruce could be replaced soon. Allegedly, Italy's star coach Antonio Conte is on the list. The club’s training center is to be rebuilt and the club’s own youth academy is to be expanded. The co-investor Amanda Staveley leaves little doubt about the goal of the project. The team should compete for titles in England and Europe and make fans around the world proud, she said.

Money scores goals in football, but that's not all. Such a project takes and depends on making the right decisions with football expertise. Especially since the city of Newcastle could look gray to the Instagraming generation of stars and their players' wives. But the example of Manchester City has shown that with a lot of money, skill and patience you can turn a traditional club that has been left behind into one of the dominant clubs on the continent, a mega-club. Since club owners may be able to spend as much money as they want with the upcoming reform of financial fair play, the matches at the top of European football will soon be intra-Arab duels: Qatar versus Saudi Arabia versus Abu Dhabi.

In Newcastle they are also hoping for money for the city and region. A few months ago fans took to the streets in England to protest against the Super League. Back then, twelve of the richest clubs in Europe wanted to start their own league. After two days the idea collapsed, at least for the time being. Perhaps the part that the fan protests had in it is manageable, but the message was clear: enough.

However, when it comes to your own club, you become diplomatic even on the most delicate issues. "As fans, there is not much we can do about human rights," the British Guardian quoted a Newcastle fan as saying . "We all wear clothes from sweatshops in countries with human rights problems. The moral compass is strange in times like these. As fans, especially as small as we are, you have to allow yourself a little hope."

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