Sheikh Khaled bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a member of a United Arab Emirates’ ruling family, has announced he is in talks to buy English Premier League club Newcastle United, becoming the latest Gulf investor to show interest in entering European football.
Newcastle was put up for sale by its owner Mike Ashley, the British retail magnate, two years ago and has been subject to a number of bids from several parties over that time without success. The founder of Sports Direct had been seeking a deal that would value the club at up to £300m, according to people familiar with previous talks to buy the club.
On Tuesday, however, there remained confusion as to whether Mr Ashley had accepted Sheikh Khaled’s approach or how close a deal was to completion.
Sheikh Khaled is chairman of the Bin Zayed Group, a Dubai-based conglomerate with holdings in construction, energy and real estate.
This week, Midhat Kidwai, group managing director of the Bin Zayed Group, released a statement to “confirm” that representatives of Sheikh Khaled “are in discussions with Mike Ashley and his team about the proposed acquisition of Newcastle United Football Club.
“We view it as an honour to have the opportunity to build on the strong support, history and tradition of the club. We have agreed terms and are working hard to complete the transaction at the earliest opportunity.”
Newcastle United, representatives for Mr Ashley and the Premier League declined to comment.
The Premier League, which has to run extensive due diligence on any deal involving a change of control at one of its member clubs, has not received any documentation related to a takeover, according to a person briefed on the situation.
A person close to the Bin Zayed group’s leadership denied this was the case, however, saying proof of funds and three years’ audited financial statements had been sent for review to English football authorities.
People close to other parties seeking to acquire Newcastle, including different investor groups headed by financier Amanda Staveley and former Chelsea and Manchester United chief executive Peter Kenyon, said they believed Mr Ashley’s sale process was continuing and that their bids also remained under consideration.
Sheikh Khaled made an offer for Liverpool FC last year, but a deal never materialised.
Some financiers in Dubai have raised questions over the Newcastle United bid because of previous financial troubles at the Bin Zayed group. A person close to the company said it has since recovered from a financial restructuring and planned to invest in the club.
“Fans won’t be disappointed,” the person said. “But we will have to manage expectations — we aren’t talking Man City here.”
If a deal is completed, Sheikh Khaled would become the latest Middle Eastern owner in European football. He would follow his distant cousin Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the billionaire businessman and member of the Abu Dhabi royal family, who in 2008 acquired Manchester City.
Abu Dhabi has ploughed more than £1bn into the Manchester club, leading it to the top of English football, winning an unprecedented treble of domestic trophies this season.
In 2011, Qatar Sports Investments acquired France’s Paris Saint-Germain, with the group seeking further holdings in the football sector, including entering discussions over a stake in Leeds United, a club that plays in the division below the Premier League.
Egyptian billionaire Nassef Sawiris, along with US businessman Wes Edens, last year acquired a majority stake in Aston Villa, a Birmingham club that has since gained promotion to the Premier League.
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