MARTIN SAMUEL: Why is Saudi cash worse than from white guys in US?

MARTIN SAMUEL: Why is Saudi money worse than cash from a bunch of white guys in America? Newcastle’s owners are treated like crooks, but the Premier League’s principled band don’t mind rubbing along with autocratic regimes

  • Newcastle have received a lot of criticism since their £300m Saudi-led takeover 
  • But Man United use their deal with Saudi Telecom as revenue stream in the past  
  • Why is investment from Saudi Arabia worse than from white guys in America? 

If you wish to know how hollow the Premier League hysteria over Newcastle’s takeover by Saudi Arabia is, consider this: the same clubs had absolutely no problem when it happened at Sheffield United.

Potless Saudis, they can handle. And by any measure of comparison Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud is not at the top table when it comes to wealth in the Gulf. Few would mind being a couple of quid behind him, but he’s not scaring the other owners. At the moment, it’s all he can do to keep his club out of League One next season.

Nor do the Premier League’s principled band mind rubbing along with autocratic regimes, given that in 2017 Manchester United agreed a strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia’s government-backed General Sports Authority.

Why are Newcastle’s Saudi owners given so much criticism compared to other billionares?

The official announcement can still be found on the club website, illustrated with a photograph of a beaming group managing director, Richard Arnold, holding up a shirt beside GSA chairman Turki Al-Shikh. The shirt has Al-Shikh’s name on the back. ‘The club has a long-standing relationship with Saudi Arabia and has over five million passionate fans in the region,’ said Arnold.

‘Our partnership with Saudi Telecom is the longest running of all our commercial partners. Having the chance to help shape the football industry in the Kingdom is a great honour and it is something where we believe we can make a big difference. I hope this strategic alliance will benefit generations of Saudi footballers, supporters and young professionals looking to work in football well beyond Saudi Vision 2030.’

Yet the promotion of Saudi Vision 2030 – the plan to diversify the country’s economic interests away from oil – is one of the opportunities that has gone down the tubes as a result of rushed Premier League legislation outlawing owner-sponsorship.

The brand Saudi Vision 2030 was a strong contender to be Newcastle’s shirt sponsor, going forward. Now it won’t be.

Manchester United – led by CEO Ed Woodward – had no problem using the country as a revenue stream after a deal with Saudi Telecom

It is fine for Manchester United to use it as a revenue stream, but not for Newcastle, who are owned by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia. No doubt one of Newcastle’s competitors will come forward to explain how this is just the latest example of financial fair play, or maybe they won’t.

After all, there’s a lot of shady stuff going on, such as 19 clubs in a 20-club league, meeting to discuss how to place limitations on the excluded one. That’s running a cartel. Business experts, not to mention judges, tend to frown on it, which is why Newcastle are taking legal advice. 

Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel is the old maxim and the same may apply to someone who sells oil by it too. One imagines the 19-club meeting won’t look such a smart move in court.

Meanwhile, Kick It Out are troubled by a few excitable Geordies with tea towels on their heads, when the real racism is coming from the top. Oil money, Gulf states, petrodollars, you know the lingo by now.

Kick It Out have an issue with Newcastle fans wearing tea towels on their heads, when the real issue of racism is coming from the top

Why is investment from one part of the world seen as less preferable to a bunch of white guys from Florida or Boston?

It reminds of the time when UEFA sanctioned Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain, then didn’t even bother to differentiate between their cases. They both received fines of £50 million without any pretence of distinction because, let’s face it, all these towelheads are the same so why bother to assess differing business models?

Premier League legislation being drawn up by panicking executives, and those who fear displacement, is directly aimed at one sort of owner, one sort of investor, from one part of the world.

If Kick It Out are serious about rooting out racism around Newcastle, they should return their Premier League funding and just call it what it is.

The Premier League leadership is weak since Richard Scudamore left and they are allowing clubs to make revisions on the hoof that, long term, could devalue the league. Why would any investor wishing to promote a brand – or even a country – buy into the league only to be tied in red tape over what could be displayed on the shirts? If the temporary legislation regarding owner-sponsorship had been in place a year ago, would Newcastle have been such an attractive proposition?

And this is what is being bought: a project, a vision. Companies such as Uber and Deliveroo do not yet show a profit but people are making billions off them. How?

A club owned by a wealthy billionaires from America is seen as more preferable than those from the Middle East. Pictured: Liverpool owner John Henry

Investors are buying the future. They are buying a time when every cab is an Uber and Deliveroo calls at every house twice weekly.

So how can anyone – and certainly not a jealous rival – set what Newcastle’s shirt is worth? The sponsor might not be buying into national TV exposure, but the regeneration of a city.

We now know Manchester City’s Etihad sponsorship, so controversial at the time, takes in a shirt, a stadium and a development project that has transformed east Manchester. Etihad is the branding on that. It wasn’t overvalued at all. So Newcastle’s sponsorship values now bear no relation to the going rate under Mike Ashley.

The club is in the news every day, the owners have big development plans for the city. A sponsor might be buying into that project across a decade, not just 10 minutes weekend exposure on Match of the Day.

And who gets to decide what this is worth? If the biggest sponsorship deal in English football was £100m, say, and a Saudi-related firm agreed £300m, that’s different. That’s wrong. But if the biggest deal was £100m and Newcastle’s matched it, or went to £110m, that may constitute an investment in where it is believed the club are heading.

Newcastle’s owners are investing into the future of the city, yet are being treated as crooks

It cannot be that Manchester United or Liverpool must always have the best deals, by law. How many ways do they want it, these guys? How many rules must be passed to protect them? We treat state ownership as dirty, but Boris Johnson doesn’t want to buy Arsenal for the UK any more than Joe Biden wants the US to own the New York Yankees. That is not the way the West works.

But do you seriously believe the Russian state did not sanction the ownership of Chelsea? Or that Chinese-backed takeovers progress without the support of the Chinese government?

And if we treat business issues as separate to human rights, the PIF of Saudi Arabia is a proper investment group with interests in General Electric, Lockheed Martin, Live Nation, Facebook, Disney, Boeing, Citigroup, BP and Uber.

Yet the Premier League clubs instinctively treat them like crooks. Maybe that’s why they need the white folk to front this up. Makes it respectable. 

WHITE’S BLACKOUT IS BAFFLING

Patrick Vieira was right. It does matter that footballers watch football.

Crystal Palace’s manager was shocked on being told Arsenal defender Ben White wasn’t interested in games.

Maybe if he was he would have done a better job of closing down Palace’s Odsonne Edouard as Arsenal dropped two points at home on Monday.

Vieira made the point that Thierry Henry, one of the finest players of the modern era, would always take in a game at any level, in any country. Cesc Fabregas, he said, was the same.

Some players have always preferred playing to watching; Jimmy Greaves, for instance.

Maybe if Ben White was interested in watching football, he would have peformed better in Arsenal’s 2-2 draw against Crystal Palace

Yet he had a natural gift that bordered on genius. Mere mortals need to work hard and study. In 2006, when Steve McClaren played three at the back with England in Croatia, it was no surprise that Jamie Carragher adapted better than his team-mates. At the World Cup in Germany that summer, Carragher showed more interest in the tournament than any other member of the squad.

In retirement, he is an astute and insightful analyst.

Interest may come with maturity. George Graham was impatient with those who wished to talk tactics post-match as a player, but became a successful manager. Yet what player does not want to take advantage of all the wonderful information now available?

Arsenal paid £50million for White. They are entitled to expect more commitment.

NEVILLE HAWKING RICE TO UNITED MAKES NO SENSE

Gary Neville opposed the Super League and made sure everyone knew it. What he doesn’t oppose is all of the supposed lesser clubs selling their best players to Manchester United, which ultimately amounts to the same thing. He was at it again this week with Declan Rice.

If Neville mentions Rice, he says he needs to go to a bigger club; and often it’s Neville’s old club Manchester United.

Of course, since the end of the maximum wage, players have moved up and on. One can see why Harry Kane wanted to join Manchester City and why Jack Grealish did.

Gary Neville has urged West Ham United star Declan Rice to move to a bigger club in the future

Rice would earn more money, play in bigger competitions and have a better chance of winning major trophies if he joined one of the biggest clubs. We can see the appeal.

But not just any big club. The logic is that Rice needs to prove himself somewhere like Manchester United, but he’s already played in a European Championship final and more than held his own. Maybe it is United and Neville’s mate, the manager, who need to prove themselves first. 

Why would Ole Gunnar Solskjaer be good for Rice? Is he a better coach than David Moyes? If Moyes had Solskjaer’s players during his time at Manchester United, might they have looked a more coherent, consistent team? Where did Jesse Lingard play his best football in recent years? It wasn’t Old Trafford. Has Solskjaer greatly improved Harry Maguire or Aaron Wan-Bissaka?

He suggested he should join his old side United, but the midfielder would not necessarily improve as a player at Old Trafford

What exactly did Tottenham do for Matt Doherty, or Arsenal for Calum Chambers?

There are six clubs that fancy themselves as elite in the Premier League but only three that are any good. Manchester United are glorified Europa League with a big budget, which is where they have ended up the last two seasons; Tottenham and Arsenal aren’t even that right now.

Yet every week we listen to influencers on behalf of an elite cabal conducting a recruitment campaign. They don’t pretend to be unallied.

A Super League by stealth is still a Super League. If anything, the venture capitalists went about it more honestly.

WENGER IS NOT YODA… AND WORLD CUP SPOILING HE IS 

The problem with Arsene Wenger is that nobody has ever told him he is talking cobblers. Not that it’s happened a lot. Most of us would listen to him on football, politics or life for hours. He is extremely engaging company.

But on occasions, like any of us, he’s wrong. One example. In 2003, Wenger accused Ruud van Nistelrooy of diving, simply because he had no great desire to be kicked in the nuts by an angry Patrick Vieira, and jerked backwards in anticipation.

It was a ludicrous allegation. Yet because Wenger was urbane, charming, polite and clearly intelligent – and because we are suckers for a cultured French accent – he was indulged like one of those old adverts for Ferrero Rocher. ‘Oh, Professeur, you are spoiling us…’

Now Wenger has gone to work for FIFA, come up with some preposterous plan to hold a World Cup every two years and we can see our mistake. This is what happens if you treat a man like Yoda no matter what he says. So Gareth Southgate is right in deciding he does not need to meet Wenger to further discuss his vision of the global calendar.

Arsene Wenger – now FIFA’s chief of global football development – has come up with a preposterous plan to stage a World Cup every two years, and should not be treated as Yoda

England’s manager took one look at Wenger’s plans and declared them nonsensical.

He honed in on the proposal to have just one international window in each season. ‘What if you have a player who is injured in that month, or for however long it’s meant to be?’ Southgate asked. ‘He doesn’t play international football for a year.’

It’s the type of flaw an international manager might spot; and Wenger has never been one. That’s why he is getting rare pushback.

Equally, no one trusts his allies. Wenger’s boss is Gianni Infantino, who this week entertained the possibility that countries would not be able to compete in consecutive biennial World Cups. So there would never actually be a World Cup. There would be a Half-a-World Cup and a Half-a-World champion.

Imagine a World Cup in which half the greatest names were absent. How can anyone trust Wenger when these guys are his sounding board?




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