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Monday, October 18, 2021

Government close to agreeing new football takeover rules amid backlash to Newcastle’s Saudi buyout

After Labour MP for Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Central, Chi Onwurah, attacked a “lack of transparency”, Downing Street insisted no recent discussions  had taken place with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The extent that Government knew about secret talks resuming between the Premier League and the consortium buying Newcastle is also unclear. 

Relations between Whitehall and football are closer than ever. In January, the league hired Helen MacNamara, previously one of Britain’s most senior civil servants, as director of policy and corporate affairs.

Meanwhile, rival club executives continue to call for a meeting with league officials to air grievances around deliberations being kept secret prior to the announcement on Thursday.

The league will tell clubs its hands were tied by lawyers to keep recent talks confidential, and also point out the current version of the owners’ and directors’ test was previously voted through by shareholders.

David Bernstein, the former Football Association chairman, told Telegraph Sport the saga of the last week is further evidence of the need for independent regulation across football.

“I think it’s difficult to be absolutely prescriptive about the particular issue of Saudi Arabia’s investment in Newcastle, for a number of reasons,” he said. “There are precedents of other situations where it’s questionable whether the investor into a football club would have passed, fit and proper person tests.

“However, I think what it illustrates with absolute clarity is once again the need for independence, and the move away from vested interests in the industry and football.”

Despite the watching brief from the owners, it is thought the sudden speed with which the takeover was completed and the jubilant reaction to it from Newcastle supporters has been warmly received in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as well as in the offices of PIF.

The opening game of a new era at St James’ Park is one the Magpies desperately need to win as they are second from bottom in the table and cannot strengthen the squad until January.

The game has already sold out with general sale tickets snapped up within a few hours of the takeover being confirmed on Thursday and that is likely to be a story repeated for every home game this season.

Amid a wave of outrage expressed in recent days, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer declared himself “very concerned” while a senior Conservative accused Mr Johnson of refusing to intervene for fear of losing “red-wall seats”.

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