No end to sobs on the Tyne as Newcastle yearn for a saviour

first_imgFinances Pinterest Topics Share on Twitter Business Facebook Share on Messenger Amanda Staveley in the stands during a Premier League match at St James’ Park. Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA Amanda Staveley home was not a campaign HQ for Theresa May, say Conservatives Read more Share on LinkedIn Yet little noted by the many write-ups of her rise as a fairytale fable was a proposed $2bn investment with the US company BlackRock in a June 2009 acquisition of Barclays Global Investors, which fell through when she had to advance the money. The Wall Street Journal later reported that BlackRock had expected a Qatari sovereign wealth fund to be the investor, then was told it was wealthy individuals but was not given their identities, so the company went elsewhere to plug the funding gap. Sources close to Staveley were reported then to have said the money was there but that the backers had required anonymity.Last year Staveley mounted a bid to buy Liverpool Football Club from the Fenway Sports Group, reportedly backed by the huge Chinese conglomerate Everbright. When this went public, Chen Shuang, its chief executive, said he had called executives in different departments who might have been involved in it and “no one was aware of the deal”. Staveley maintained she had been backed by a division of Everbright which then backed out; subsequently she tried again with different backers but no deal was done.The backing for her bids to buy Newcastle – she first offered £350m, then £300m; both with instalments and penalties if the club were relegated, followed by a straight £250m in December – is said to be from four or five individuals in the Gulf, as yet unidentified, with some of her own money. Chris Mort, a lawyer at the City firm Freshfields, is acting for her, and sources close to her say Mort has a letter from an overseas branch of a UK bank stating that sufficient money is there to do the deal. Ashley rejected that £250m offer in December, then did so publicly in characteristically inelegant style, sources close to him telling Sky Sports News there was “no deal on the table with Amanda Staveley.”When all this fog on the Tyne slowly cleared, late January was approaching and it exposed a club nearing the end of the transfer window unbudgingly owned by Ashley, with no reinforcements except the loan signing from Chelsea of the Brazilian winger Kenedy. Newcastle were alone among all clubs at risk of relegation in not spending money to strengthen their squads; Ashley declined to meet Feyenoord’s €27m price for Benítez’s most wanted striker, Nicolai Jorgensen. The last-minute alternative, the loan signing of Leicester’s Islam Slimani, was still being hurriedly cleared throughout the 31 January match against Burnley. It finished 1-1, Joselu missing a penalty and a second-half golden chance.Benítez is wearing the look of a stressed Sports Direct store manager, trying to wring the best out of willing lads on zero-hour contracts. Ashley is said to be a gambler but this is not high-stakes playing, taking risks to win; it is parting with as little money as possible in the aim not to lose.So Newcastle face another grim run-in, the extent of ambition being to avoid a third relegation in Ashley’s 11-year reign, at a great football club he seems, bewilderingly, to derive little pleasure from owning. Which leaves supporters turning up at their home stadium, the Sports Direct Arena in all but official name, still hoping that Keegan’s promise will one day come true, and they will get the soul of their football club back. Share via Email The aching resentment many Newcastle United supporters feel for the dispiriting culture under the club’s owner, Mike Ashley, was articulated in the powerful banner at the home match against Burnley on transfer deadline night.Under the oppressively huge logo of Ashley’s cut-price retail business Sports Direct slapped on the Gallowgate End roof, it read: “Don’t ever give up on your club. Keep supporting it; it’s your club and trust me, one day you will get your club back, and it will be everything you wanted it to be. Newcastle United is bigger than anyone. It hurts I know but just keep going. He is only one man. We are a city, a whole population. Trust me.”Heartfelt, poignant, proud, the banner proclaimed supporters’ deep knowledge of their football institution’s heritage and 125 years of history. Those were the words of Kevin Keegan, embodiment as a player and manager of an adventurous Newcastle spirit profoundly missing now, after Keegan won his 2009 constructive dismissal case in a judgment damning of the Ashley regime. The Observer Share on Facebook Twitter Read more Isaac Hayden: ‘We have mansions, yet people are queueing for food’ Before that, Staveley had been in personal financial difficulties, subject to an individual voluntary arrangement with creditors following the collapse of her conference business Q.ton. She had moved to Dubai, having first met wealthy figures from the Gulf while running a restaurant near Newmarket where they owned racehorses. Since 2008, she has sought busily to pull off the same feat, with mixed results. She does appear to have secured connections to Qatari sovereign wealth funds, becoming involved in their acquisitions of prestige properties in London. In 2010, she was reliably reported to have advised on the £250m Qatari purchase of Park House on Oxford Street, which was redeveloped into retail and apartments. In 2012 she was involved in the Qatari purchase of another London office block, Arundel Great Court, for a reported price of £234m, with a PCP company this time reported to be an investor itself.She is said to have made good money selling her interest in that, and to have since advised on further acquisitions of London property and a business, again by Qatari funds. Her well-appointed home in London is owned by an offshore investment fund, with connections to Harrods, which is also Qatari owned. Mike Ashley Newcastle United features Although Ashley’s Sports Direct brand is spattered all over St James’ Park, the owner himself is usually absent now. So he, unlike the 50,000 loyal souls who pack St James’ Park, spares himself from witnessing Rafael Benítez’s damage-limitation efforts, straining just to bank Premier League survival from a squad parched of investment.So when Amanda Staveley appeared in this ground of miserable stagnation after Ashley put the club up for sale, hopes were fuelled that she would take over and restore the future with some of the Keegan spirit. But supporters calling for Ashley to get out of their club were somewhat missold an image of Staveley, an exaggerated version of her as a wealthy, connected saviour.Sources close to Staveley herself confirmed to the Observer this week that she is not, as claimed by her own representative and widely reported in recent weeks, a fund manager, with the repeatedly cited figure of £28bn under management. That was always barely credible given any familiarity with Staveley’s life story and how she does business.Nor, clearly, does she or her company, PCP Capital Partners, manage sovereign wealth funds, as has been claimed. Furthermore, Staveley does not claim personally to have anything like the kind of money suggested, which would enable her to acquire the bulk of Newcastle herself – even at her own offer price of £250m, which Ashley has contemptuously and publicly rejected.The Guardian had already established before this that another claim as evidence of Staveley’s substance, that she lent the use of her London home to Theresa May’s Conservative party leadership campaign, was untrue. Staveley’s representative has said neither he nor the businesswoman ever made that claim, so it remains a mystery how the story was written, more than once, following interviews with her.Staveley does not engage in fund management, which entails the constant investment of pension and other wealth funds in a wide range of shares in different markets and other assets, to increase their value for clients as reliably as possible. Bluntly, managing £28bn would have meant PCP Capital Partners is one of the City of London’s biggest fund managers, and would involve teams of financial professionals.Staveley’s operation is essentially to look for individual opportunities and to try to secure investors for them. She made a remarkable leap to success in 2008, becoming involved as an adviser on two investments by Sheikh Mansour of Abu Dhabi: the purchase of Manchester City, then his £3.5bn investment in Barclays bank, for which she was paid a £30m fee. 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