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Newcastle United Deal Broker Emerges From Trials and Insults

·3 min read

(Bloomberg) -- Ever since a picture emerged of Amanda Staveley sitting in the stands at Newcastle United around four years ago, the beleaguered team’s fans have viewed the London financier as their potential savior.

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Staveley, who wines and dines wealthy contacts at a private members club in the capital’s upmarket Mayfair district, may seem an unlikely heroine for the club’s salty but passionate support base in the gritty northeast English city.

Yet her dogged negotiating has delivered them what they wanted: Middle Eastern investors who are ready to divert a slice of their vast wealth to reverse the club’s steady decline.

The purchase of Newcastle by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund is set to be the biggest game-changer in English soccer since Abu Dhabi’s acquisition of Manchester City in 2008, another deal involving Staveley.

The 48-year-old has now helped broker the takeover of a sleeping giant in the world’s most lucrative soccer league that had looked dead in the water. Saudi Arabia banned Qatar’s BeIN, a major broadcaster of soccer in the region, in 2017. BeIN then turned into a big opponent of any deal with Newcastle, until a recent breakthrough first reported by Bloomberg News. Staveley tried to mediate to bring an end to the dispute during the summer.

“I’m nothing but persistent,” Staveley said in an interview. Although the takeover has been four years in the making, Staveley said she hadn’t met a single member of staff at the soccer club yet, and only called coach Steve Bruce for the first time on Thursday. “The deal has been done entirely remotely,” she said.

It’s a timely victory for Staveley after her advisory firm PCP Capital Partners lost a near-billion dollar legal fight in February with Barclays Plc, over claims she had been underpaid on a crisis financing deal. During the acrimonious case, the court heard how Staveley had once been described by various bankers as ‘thick as s--t’, a ‘dolly bird’ and ‘a tart’.

Now Staveley has become one of the few prominent women in world soccer, and one of an even smaller number who can afford to invest 30 million pounds ($41 million) of their own money in a club. She also brokered the takeover of Manchester City by Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan and later tried to put together a bid for Liverpool, according to documents seen by Bloomberg.

The private-school educated daughter of a wealthy Yorkshire landowner, Staveley was born an hour’s drive from Newcastle. She dropped out of Cambridge University to start a restaurant called Stocks in Bottisham, near the horse-racing town of Newmarket. It was here that she made her first Middle Eastern contacts.

Her lengthy pursuit of Newcastle involved tetchy talks with the team’s owner, Mike Ashley. After those negotiations broke down, she returned with a consortium headed by Saudi Arabia’s PIF sovereign wealth fund, and initially agreed a deal in April 2020.

The working-class, heavy-drinking billionaire Ashley had the more typical profile of a soccer team owner, turning up at Newcastle games wearing a black and white soccer strip.

But his underinvestment over the past 14 years made him deeply unpopular. Newcastle’s investment in infrastructure was the lowest of Premier League clubs between 2011 and 2020, according to Kieran Maguire, a lecturer in football finance at the University of Liverpool.

Newcastle United’s fans often point out the leaking roofs in the 52,000-seat stadium, and the club is so far winless in the current campaign. Indeed, the team last won a domestic trophy in 1955.

The club needs “a lot of investment,” Staveley told Bloomberg, promising that the revival effort won’t break the financial fair play rules that aim to limit extravagant spending by wealthier team owners.

“The Premier League is a unique place but what matters is how we build this club,” she added.

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