The second international break of the season is usually a chance to take stock and evaluate how the first couple of months have gone for City. On this occasion, it was best not to look too closely – a bonnet that didn’t really need opening.
Unfortunately, said international break is also the trigger for Observer Sport to take a team-by-team look at the Premier League and ask nominated fans for their thoughts on what’s occurred so far at their club. Muggins here currently has that gig.
Quite how tricky a gig it was going to be this time around became clear when I saw the first question:
1) What’s been your team’s single best performance so far? (Could be a match, or a great half. What made it so good?)
For what it’s worth, I (obviously) plumped for the only league game we didn’t lose but tried also to shoehorn in the 6-0 Carabao Cup win over Bournemouth. I think I may have succeeded in the online version, but in print, the cup win made it only as far as the cutting room floor.
For those of us tasked with writing about our club, the gruel so far this season has been undeniably thin but, equally, the events of the week in the North East have served as a timely reminder that there are more things at play right now than just games of football to be won, lost or drawn.
The obvious irony of Newcastle fans celebrating as if they’d just won a trophy and claiming to have won their club back when they have in fact been bought by a Saudi-backed consortium with very close links to one of the world’s most murderous regimes has been lost on no-one… except Newcastle fans.
To be precise, Newcastle United PLC is now owned by the Public Investment Fund (PIF) of Saudi Arabia, the chairman of whom is one Mohammed bin Salman, aka the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. So, let’s be clear, whatever legal gymnastics the Premier League may have undertaken to convince themselves that PIF is an entirely separare entity to Saudi Arabia the state, it’s really not.
But that’s okay. Ignore for one moment the fact that Saudi Arabia is a state with an appalling record in the way it treats women, the LGBT community and religious minorities, not to mention its propensity to either kill or imprison journalists and bloggers who dare critise the country’s rulers. It’s the money that matters.
Just think of all that Saudi Riyal that will come thundering in and out of the Premier League as PIF flexes its financial muscle and brings in the superstar mercenaries of world football to St James’ Park.
Such is the financial might now behind the Toon, poor Sheikh Mansour of Man City may find himself unable to compete. He may even be forced to resort to the ‘poor billionaire’ defence as City fans decry another underwhelming transfer window, where their top targets have been blown away by the lure of Newcastle’s Quayside and salaries and transfer fees way beyond those affordable to the paupers of the Etihad.
And what about poor old PSG? How are they supposed to compete now? Saudi Arabia vs Qatar. No contest.
Let’s not forget too the Glaziers, the Henrys and the other owners of the Premier League’s European Super League wannabees. Poor things. How on Earth are they supposed to remain competitive?
But the thing is, this latest Premier League takeover must surely have edged the European Super League 2.0 that bit closer.
The Premier League is no longer about being innovative, or smart, or spending what money you have wisely. It’s about having an owner who is richer than the next guy. In the last 24 hours, I’ve seen more of the league table that lists the owners of each club based on their wealth than I have the actual league table. We’re obviously 20th in that too.
Yet Newcastle, who let’s face it, have been pretty cr@p for quite a long time, even having been buoyed by Mike Ashley’s multi-millions, will now form part of the ESL conversation. By virtue of a few signatures on a few pieces of paper and a bank transfer or two, they have immediately propelled themselves into the elite of the European game.
Without even kicking a ball.
Great isn’t it?
As ever, a takeover of this ilk produces copy aplenty – articles, blogs, interviews, social media posts – and one of the oddest takes, one that has popped up from several different sources, is that Newcastle fans are among the most hard done by in English football.
They’re really not.
They may support a club that has under-delivered based on the size of its fan base, but they’ve been fed a staple of Premier League football interspersed with the occasional foray into the Championship that invariably ends with a trophy.
Ashley may have given them all the hump, but along the way, they have been able to spend big money on expensive players, and it’s not Ashley’s fault they’ve been sold a few pups and a few Joelintons en route.
Try telling fans of the late Bury FC that Newcastle fans have had it tough. Or Derby. Or Sheffield Wednesday. Or Portsmouth. Or Coventry. Or, even, Ipswich. There are loads who, for a whole variety of reasons, could argue they have been more hard done by than the Toon Army. Dozens.
So forgive me for not breathing one huge sigh of relief that Newcastle have been ‘saved’ and that the club’s fans finally have their club back. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Meanwhile, little old Norwich plots its own self-sufficient course; one that couldn’t possibly be further removed from the route taken by Tyneside’s finest.
We’ll probably never win anything other than second-tier trophies; we’re probably stuck in an eternal fight for promotion/relegation, but we have a club that doesn’t just purport to be part of its community. It actually is.
We have owners who care. Regular readers of this column will know my thoughts on Michael and Delia’s reticence in the past to even consider alternative forms of funding that could make this club more competitive but, despite any perceived mistakes they may or may not have made, they’re good, decent, kind people.
And right now, that counts for a lot.
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