2 years of PIF at Newcastle United: The dawn of Al-Rumayyan’s age of expectation as Magpies challenge world order
NEWCASTLE: Two years ago, around about this time, a roar swept across Tyneside. One of joy, right from the heart, the soul. One that rippled through the hundreds of Newcastle United fans gathered at St. James’ Park — which soon became tens of thousands. A roar heard across all four corners of the globe; a noise that one feels is yet to reach its crescendo.
This was it. The moment: 5:18 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021. A timestamp etched in the history of the Magpies. This was what Newcastle fans had been waiting for; all they hoped and dreamed of.
“The Premier League, Newcastle United Football Club and St James Holdings Limited have today settled the dispute over the takeover of the club by the consortium of PIF, PCP Capital Partners and RB Sports & Media.”
It continued: “Following the completion of the Premier League’s Owners’ and Directors’ Test, the club has been sold to the consortium with immediate effect.”
Months of waiting for words from the Premier League, and in two tweets it lit up a city. The Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia was the new custodian of hopes and dreams for every man, woman and child with black and white blood coursing through their veins.
Two years on, that landscape has altered immeasurably, both on and off the field — and with it, so has expectation. The Magpies are no longer the plucky underdog, the downtrodden sleeping giant. The giant is rumbling, and all of Europe, indeed the world, are taking note.
Take Wednesday, for example. Few so-called experts expected Newcastle to lay a glove on the first real “new money” world football project, Paris Saint-Germain.
It was billed by many as the established order against the young pretender — a lazy comparison given Newcastle have proudly stood at the top of the English game since 1892, while Paris were a city merger project in the 1970s.
This was more than football; it was about ideology. Saudi Arabia v Qatar. Galacticos super spends v sustainable investment. And throw in the traditional England v France rivalry and you have an explosive mix. St. James’ Park did not disappoint in that regard.
The white hot bomb that went off on Wednesday evening — from the raucous home following which sucked every ball into the net, to the straining of every sinew by the 11 black and whites on the park — blew a shell-shocked Kylian Mbappe and his teammates into insignificance. Well, for one night at least. If Newcastle’s Saudi owners have anything to do with it — spoiler, they definitely will — this will become a regular occurrence.
The man tasked with leading the Magpies in this new era of expectation is Eddie Howe. His appointment was the first major decision taken by the owners — and there has barely been a day of regret for either side, with Newcastle climbing from 19th in the Premier League to Champions League football, all with less of a transfer spend than a third of the English top flight.
The next step has to be consolidation in the top four and maybe even a trophy.
“Hopefully, upwards and in the right direction,” Howe said when asked about what he thinks the future direction of his team and the club will be in the next phase of development.
“In the two years the owners have been here it has been incredible for the football club.
“They have had a path, a plan, and they have tried to implement that plan. They’ve tried to give stability to the football club. They’ve just been very consistent and very level. That helps enormously internally when you are trying to work at the football club to try and make good decisions. So, full credit to everyone involved.
“The future looks bright but that depends on so many things to work and go well. There are no guarantees in football; you have to work every day to progress things forward. That’s the wish, but money doesn’t guarantee it. Good decisions are the key.”
Yasir Al-Rumayyan strode down from the directors’ box at St. James’ Park on Wednesday, having watched with a beaming smile as wide as the Tyne, to congratulate every player, the manager and his coaches on their 4-1 success.
It feels like a long, long time since he made the same journey, with fewer smiles, following a January 2022 shock FA Cup defeat to third tier Cambridge United.
PIF chief and Newcastle chair Al-Rumayyan is a man who knows what he wants and makes no apology for talking about the Magpies targeting the top of the world footballing tree.
His deputies, Amanda Staveley and others, have also talked of “winning everything.” These types of statements seemed fanciful six months ago, but look less so given Newcastle’s Champions League start. A lot of water has passed under the bridge in 24 months; a lot more is yet to flow.
“I did, very briefly, because I was in the middle of my press conference,” said Howe when asked whether he spoke to Al-Rumayyan after the game.
“We had a couple of minutes together and it was short and sweet. There were words of encouragement, from both sides. From him to me, and me to him. It’s always great to see him, we love it when he comes to watch us play.
“We haven’t had a meeting together for some time. This season is different because of the amount of games. But I’m sure there are decisions and meetings going on that I’m not aware of.
“The aim is to be the best we can be, as quickly as we can be. But I’ve not been set any targets. The target is to maximize and get everything I can out of the squad. That’s the message, really.”
Newcastle’s first game in the third year of majority Saudi ownership comes on Sunday when they face a trip to UEFA Conference League winners West Ham United at the London Stadium.