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Saudi wealth fund in talks to buy Newcastle United

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Via Financial Times

Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund is in talks to acquire English Premier League football club Newcastle United for just under £350m, becoming the latest Middle Eastern investor to seek entry into the world’s most popular sport. 

The deal is being brokered by British financier Amanda Staveley with almost all of the funding coming from the Public Investment Fund, controlled by Saudi crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman, according to people familiar with the discussions. 

The club is owned by UK retail magnate Mike Ashley, who was asking as much as £400m from potential buyers earlier this month, according to a person familiar with the talks. 

People close to the talks added that the PIF-backed investment group was seeking to acquire Newcastle for between £340m-£350m. The group has earmarked a further £200m for investment in the club.

There is no certainty a deal will be reached. One person close to the talks said they had been on and off for months, with discussions heating up again in recent weeks. An earlier iteration of talks between Mr Ashley and Ms Staveley collapsed in acrimony two years ago after a cash offer of £250m was rejected. 

If the deal is completed, the Saudi-led group would become the latest Gulf investor in football. Ms Staveley brokered the deal for Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the billionaire businessman and member of the Abu Dhabi royal family, to acquire Manchester City in 2008. 

In 2011, state-backed Qatar Sports Investment acquired France’s Paris Saint-Germain. Earlier this year, Prince Abdullah Bin Mosaad Bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, a Saudi prince and grandson of the late King Abdulaziz, secured full control of Premier League side Sheffield United. 

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Soccer Football - FA Cup Third Round Replay - Newcastle United v Rochdale - St James' Park, Newcastle, Britain - January 14, 2020 Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley and managing director Lee Charnley in the stands Action Images via Reuters/Lee Smith
Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley watches his team from the stands earlier this month. He put the club up for sale in 2017 © Action Images via Reuters

Mr Ashley, the founder of the Sports Direct retail chain, put the club up for sale in 2017. Since then, Sheikh Khaled bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a member of the United Arab Emirates’ ruling family, and an investment group led by former Chelsea and Manchester United chief executive Peter Kenyon made unsuccessful approaches over an acquisition. 

The PIF has more than $300bn in assets under management and has been earmarked by Prince Mohammed as the key vehicle for diversifying the Saudi economy and making foreign investments, such as taking stakes in Tesla and Uber. 

The Wall Street Journal was first to report talks between PIF and Mr Ashley on Saturday. Newcastle declined to comment. A spokesperson for Mr Ashley did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Additional reporting by Kaye Wiggins and Jonathan Eley

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