Newcastle United’s majority owners, PIF have recently purchased the four-biggest Saudi Pro League clubs. There is now an influx of high-profile players signing for these clubs. The likes of Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kante, and many more have joined Cristiano Ronaldo in Saudi Arabia in a span of a few days.
What does this mean for Newcastle? Well, in the grand scheme of things, many would argue it means very little. But delving deeper, there’s a darker side to PIF’s takeover of football.
The knock-on effect it has on Newcastle is actually a big one. PIF, perhaps unknowingly, have helped Chelsea out of a huge Financial Fair Play hole all the while the club they own, Newcastle, are completely hamstrung by it and have to be extremely cautious in the transfer market in a bid to abide by the FFP rules.
Chelsea’s owners Clearlake Capital have many investors, and this is where the waters start to become a lot more murky. One of those investors, of course, is PIF.
Those close business links between Chelsea and PIF have come to prominence as the Blues have already offloaded a total of five players to the Saudi Pro League. They could keep doing it, and the number might increase before the transfer window closes for both European and Saudi clubs—which share a parallel timeline.
Chelsea have entered perilous FFP territory through the past few months due to their gargantuan spending, though with the help of PIF they’ve been given a helping hand to prevent any FFP trouble coming their way in the near future.
Meanwhile, Newcastle continue to bang the FFP drum. The budget they have is limited and the club must sell players if they are to have a more competitive transfer kitty—thus, the Allan Saint-Maximin daily rumors.
Obviously, no club under the ownership of PIF is going to submit a £120m bid for Paul Dummett, let alone without raising some surprising eyebrows, but their investment in the Saudi Pro League shows Newcastle might not be their number one priority.
Chelsea had a disastrous season while Newcastle soared to Champions League qualification. Chelsea are most probably going to rally, bounce back, and improve next season—and just in case that wasn’t enough, they’ve now been given a massive push by Newcastle’s owners. Chelsea’s wage bill has improved dramatically, which will allow them to flex their financial muscles even harder this summer.
Clearlake Capital refuse to comment on PIF’s involvement with Chelsea. Clearlake are, of course, entitled to keep shtum on the subject with the vetting process having been “thorough” according to sources.
One of the key questions is what represents fair value for those Chelsea players on their way to Saudi Arabia now that the entire market has been distorted by the Middle Eastern nation. There is nothing in the Premier League rulebook aimed at objectively deciding how much a footballer is worth and rules around the fair value of sponsorship have just been introduced in the Premier League in the wake of recent behemoth-size investors arriving on the British shores.
Newcastle remain cautious. Nothing is imminent in terms of first-team signings on the horizon—barring the impending arrival of Sandro Tonali from AC Milan—despite Eddie Howe’s wish for early incomings to allow them to hit the ground running. Despite not being officially deemed as one, whatever way this situation is looked at, there is a clear conflict of interest brewing. For PIF to be involved at Chelsea as well as Newcastle, albeit on a smaller scale, and with the number of Chelsea players now moving to Saudi, questions must be asked.
There is already an obscene amount of money at the top end of football. The emergence of the Saudi Pro League has exacerbated that—players will be treated like kings and paid even more handsomely. The blame should not be laid entirely at the players’ door. There should be much more stringent rules in place to prevent these situations from arising.
The introduction and then the swift collapse of the European Super League was just the start. We are now seeing a very different animal rear its head. This is not a league for players entering the end of their careers as first thought—the Saudi Pro League are poaching and chasing players who are still in their primes. That is a worrying sign for major and established leagues like the Premier League.
Parallels are being drawn with the Chinese Super League. For those hoping the Saudi Pro League will go the same way, I’d say you need to think again. PIF already had their “2030 Vision” and now, after the purchase of the biggest Saudi football clubs, everything is part of a larger picture and a way for Saudi Arabia to diversify their investment without solely relying on the sale of oil forever—hence the money put in other areas.
The Saudis have changed the landscape of football very quickly, they have given players a more lucrative option to explore, and they’ve done it in a smooth dangling of a cannot-be-denied carrot. The players will, inevitably, be drawn to it.
With the influx of top-tier players experienced by the Saudi Pro League, transfer windows have undisputedly changed forever.
Major leagues' top brass now need to think of a way to counteract this new superpower in world football. Whether this spells the end of FFP altogether remains to be seen, though something must change in order for the likes of the Premier League to compete with the Saudi Pro League. It is a delicate balance, as clubs cannot simply start throwing huge amounts of money all across the globe. That would only end one way and it wouldn’t be pretty. It needs to be something regulated and fair for all parties involved.
Where does this leave Newcastle? PIF still see the club as an important piece of their puzzle but that’s just it: one single piece of a rather larger jigsaw, not the one-and-only priority.
PIF can and will likely turn Newcastle into one of the biggest clubs in the world. They have the means and can afford to do it by being patient. That will frustrate some supporters who want more instant action in the transfer market, but PIF know that in ten years Newcastle will be a club transformed. The Saudi can be patient and be squeaky clean in the process. Just imagine one of the biggest clubs in the world, also being cleaner than clean. No embargoes or 115 charges for them. With all other investments PIF have already in place and those that might be yet to come, they know they can take their time and follow every single rule to the very letter.
It is only natural for some supporters to want Newcastle to splash the cash after years in the football wilderness under Mike Ashley. When a club sells its soul, the expectation from a supporter's point of view is simply to be excited.
Quite what happens in the world of football in terms of financials remains to be seen. However, the fundamentals of football must be protected at all costs—the feeling of the journey starting with jumpers for goalposts must remain.
Whether anyone likes it or not, the Saudi Pro League are not going anywhere. Saudi football, and all it entails, is here to stay.