Saudi-backed deal for Newcastle proves that in EPL, dirty money counts too

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Money talks. Even if it’s stained in blood.

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All eyes will be on Newcastle this weekend where Tottenham comes to visit St. James’ Park.

If you aren’t familiar with this saga, Newcastle, one of the most well-supported but underachieving clubs in all of world soccer, have suffered under skinflint owner Mike Ashley for 14 years. Despite a couple of relegations with yo-yo bounces back up to the Premier League they have maintained brilliant support from a passionate supporter base.

Along the way they have seen star players leave, managers changed more than the coffee filters in the cafe and a total lack of ambition.

Two years ago a deal appeared to be brokered with the crown prince of Saudi Arabia to buy the team.

Despite all sorts of protestations over “sport-washing” being behind the bid, to try and paper over the blood stains in the mystery of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi (amongst many other human rights violations), the bid was held up over a piracy complaint from one of the Premier League’s broadcast partners.

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Now that’s allegedly settled, the deal has gone through and despite the problems presented by other state-owned clubs and oligarchs as well, the Saudi ownership group has more wealth than all the other Premier League clubs combined, including Manchester City and Chelsea.

The ownership structure is led by a Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund called the Public Investment Fund which has a collective wealth of $541 billion, which might explain why on Thursday news leaked that the group was also interested in buying Inter Milan in Italy as they look to collect clubs throughout the soccer world.

While some English clubs are fearful of another big spender, others are rightly concerned about the optics of such a vicious regime owning a club. None of that matters to Newcastle fans who have gleefully mocked up pictures of Lionel Messi, Mo Salah and Kylian Mbappe in Newcastle gear, dreaming of the mega-spend which will inevitably come.

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It’s all deeply unsettling to the current. No matter how awful North American leagues can be when it comes to putting cash above all else, you have to think that a club owned by a state with more human rights violations than you can count would not be allowed admission into their rich-boy club. But the Premier League seemingly has no issues with it. You have the cash? Hey great, come on in! Cheers, lads, the champagne’s in the fridge.

With less than 72 hours to go before Newcastle’s game, manager Steve Bruce is still in charge, but the feeling is he won’t be on the touchline when the game kicks off. Tickets are reselling at an exorbitant rate as fans are ushering in what they feel will be a prosperous new era.

The reality is with Financial Fair Play rules it will take years to buy serious upgrades on the current team. And there’s a small matter of Newcastle sitting in the relegation zone with just three points on the season.

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Elsewhere, it’s a race against time for many clubs as some South American World Cup Qualifiers kickoff less than 35 hours before the weekend action begins. Nine clubs have apparently banded together to hire a private jet to whisk players back from Brazil’s match on Friday, however Liverpool, who have the early kickoff on Saturday, have decided it’s a bridge too far and will send goalkeeper Alisson Becker and midfield anchor Fabinho directly to Madrid to await their Champions League clash with Atletico next week instead. The logistics around these international breaks remain farcical and player welfare is the absolute last consideration for any of the officials involved in these decisions.

On the pitch one of the more intriguing matchups is Leicester hosting Manchester United. Foxes manager Brendan Rodgers has been the subject of many rumours to put him in charge of Newcastle, though he is allegedly holding out hope of being in the running for the Manchester City job which is supposed to come vacant in two years.

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Leicester have been flirting with the Top Four spots the last two years but are off to a disappointing start. United could be vulnerable having lost starting centre back and big summer signing Rafael Varane to a groin injury while on duty with France.

SATURDAY: Watford v. Liverpool; Aston Villa v. Wolves; Leicester v. Manchester United; Manchester City v. Burnley; Norwich v. Brighton; Southampton v. Leeds; Brentford v. Chelsea.
SUNDAY: Everton v. West Ham; Newcastle v. Tottenham.
MONDAY : Arsenal v. Crystal Palace.

LA LIGA
While Premier League clubs are struggling with how to manage the international break, the power of Real Madrid stands strong in Spain.

Two matches have been postponed, Atletico Madrid v. Granada and Real Madrid v. Bilbao, because of late returning players.

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Barcelona are enjoying some rare good news this week. They sit ninth in La Liga, last in the Champions League group and the question of who will be in the manager’s chair long term.

While any squad would struggle with losing a generational icon like Lionel Messi, Barca are hoping last-year’s teenage buy Pedri will fill at least part of that gap. Today they locked up their phenom until 2026 with a big contract that sets his buyout at $1.4 billion. Their debt set is still perilous at more than $2 billion, but at least this locks up a valuable asset for them to build around.

SATURDAY: Levante v. Getafe; Real Sociedad v. Mallorca.
SUNDAY: Rayo Vallecano v. Elche; Celta Vigo v. Sevilla; Villarreal v. Osasuna; Barcelona v. Valencia.
MONDAY: Alavés v. Real Betis; Espanyol v. Cádiz.

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SERIE A
The big match to watch in Italy this weekend is struggling Juventus hosting Jose Mourinho’s Roma. Sitting in fifth place with 15 points, Roma could really put 7th-place Juve under pressure if they can take all three points. That would leave Juve seven points out of the Champions League spots and in dire need of a long, good run. Roma are banking that newly-arrived English star Tammy Abraham is fit and ready to resume his excellent start to the season.

Another match to watch is the one on Monday between Venezia and Fiorentina. If you don’t know the name of Dusan Vlahovic you will soon.

The Serbian striker rejected a new Fiorentina contract this week, his current deal expires in 2023. But as one of Europe’s hottest strikers his name is being linked to Juventus, Inter, Tottenham, Atletico Madrid and Manchester City.

Vlahovic has scored six goals in eight games for Fiorentina this season after scoring 21 times last year. At just 21-years-old he’s set to be a name that will float about along with Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland who are both expected to change teams next summer.

SATURDAY : Spezia v. Salernitana; Lazio v. Inter Milan; AC Milan v. Hellas Verona.
SUNDAY: Cagliari v. Sampdoria; Empoli v. Atalanta; Genoa v. Sassuolo; Udinese v. Bologna; Napoli v. Torino; Juventus v. Roma.
MONDAY: Venezia v. Fiorentina.

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