• Jue. Sep 21st, 2023

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Saudi spending won’t compromise owners’ aims for Newcastle, says Mapgies CEO

Saudi spending won’t compromise owners’ aims for Newcastle, says Mapgies CEO

Newcastle chief executive Darren Eales is convinced eye-watering Saudi Arabian investment in domestic football will not derail their mission on Tyneside.

The Gulf state’s Public Investment Fund, which owns an 80 per cent stake in the St James’ Park outfit, bought majority holdings in four of the nation’s biggest clubs – Al Nassr, Al Hilal, Al Ahli and Al Ittihad – in June, sparking a transfer flurry which has taken some of the game’s biggest names to the Saudi Pro League in return for vast pay packets.

Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo and French counterpart Karim Benzema are among those to have headed for the Middle East, while the Magpies have themselves benefited – to raised eyebrows in some quarters – with Allan Saint-Maximin’s move to Al-Ahli, having unlocked a Financial Fair Play conundrum with what is understood to have been a £30million cash injection.

Asked to explain the difference between that and the more modest approach adopted on Tyneside, where the total transfer spend over the four windows since the new owners took charge currently amounts to around £350million, Eales said: “An investment was made and Financial Fair Play is the regulation, so within those parameters everybody knew what the guard rails are in terms of what you can spend and how you can spend it.

“Our job is to try to now grow Newcastle United to where we want it to be within the regulations which every club has to follow.”

While Newcastle’s spending has been huge in comparison to that under previous owner Mike Ashley, PIF’s investment in the club, which has prompted repeated accusations of sportswashing, has been relatively modest for a sovereign wealth fund worth in the region of £514billion.

However Eales, who admitted the success or otherwise of the Pro League could spark pressure for a change to spending regulations in Europe, insists the owners are not frustrated by their inability to throw money at the Premier League club as they have been able to do at home.

He said: “The reality is they came in and it has been incredible, fighting relegation to finishing 11th, then finishing fourth. We have very shrewd operators in our ownership group.

“We have got a great skill-set and set of people who have experience in various businesses. They understand it is a long-term plan not short-term.”

Summer swoops for Sandro Tonali, Harvey Barnes and Tino Livramento had bolstered Eddie Howe’s squad for a campaign in which the club will look to build upon last season’s top-four finish while at the same time renewing their acquaintance with the Champions League after a 20-year absence.

However, the arrivals of Barnes and Livramento were eased by Saint-Maximin’s departure amid questions over a PIF-backed club buying from another within the fund’s sporting portfolio.

However, sporting director Dan Ashworth, who confirmed there was no other formal bid for the Frenchman despite interest elsewhere, insisted the undisclosed fee represented the player’s market value.

Ashworth said: “We are absolutely convinced it is fair market value and without going into the actual price it was, there is plenty evidence of players of similar age, similar position, similar ability, similar CV that are moving for similar amounts outside the Saudi league.”

The trajectory since Amanda Staveley’s consortium took up the reins at St James’ in October 2021 has been inexorably upwards, and the plan is to continue that resurgence both on the pitch and off it, where £10million has been invested in the training ground and a feasibility study commissioned to look into ways in which the 52,000-capacity stadium could be expanded.

Commercial revenue and global supporter engagement are also major focuses for a club which has high hopes for sustained success.

Eales said: “We are trying to build the plane while we are flying it. We won’t always get everything right. For us, it’s about getting Newcastle United rightfully back to where it should be.”