Newcastle's key issues after ownership shock: Howe’s future, Saudi role, women’s team


Amanda Staveley and Mehrdad Ghodoussi, Newcastle United’s co-owners, are set to leave the club after almost three years at St James’ Park.

The pair fronted a consortium which bought the club from Mike Ashley and ended the Sports Direct businessman’s 14-year ownership. Though Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) has always been the majority stakeholders, it is Staveley and Ghodoussi who have often been the public faces of the club.

In the coming days, The Athletic will endeavour to explain the changes which are taking place at Newcastle, given that a new sporting director, Paul Mitchell, is also in place. But, here, we examine the six key issues which need clarifying following Staveley’s and Ghodoussi’s exits…

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Who will own what at Newcastle?

Staveley made three attempts to buy Newcastle during the 2017-18 season, but it was once she returned as a minority stakeholder within a wider consortium that Ashley pushed for a £305million ($390.7m at present rates) sale.

With PIF as the 80 per cent majority stakeholders and the Reuben Brothers, run by the British billionaires David and Simon Reuben, holding a 10 per cent shareholding, Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners bought the remaining 10 per cent when the protracted takeover — first agreed in April 2020 — was completed in October 2021.

Companies House records show that Staveley’s stake has gradually been diluted to between 5.7 per cent and 6.0 per cent, with the Reuben family shares increasing.

In March, questions were raised about Staveley’s future after filings on Companies House showed she had resigned as a director from 20 Newcastle-related companies. But she described the changes as “purely administrative, to non-trading subsidiaries”.

With Staveley departing, one of, or a combination of, PIF and the Reuben Brothers will purchase PCP’s remaining shares.

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Jamie Reuben will remain as co-owner of Newcastle United (Stu Forster/Getty Images)

What roles need to be filled?

Initially post-takeover, PCP held the management contract to run the club, which was extended at least once. Staff members from PCP conducted an audit of Newcastle, while Staveley and Ghodoussi became almost de facto CEOs and sporting directors.

Lee Charnley, the managing director and sole board member at the end of Ashley’s tenure, was kept on in an interim capacity but, once he departed in November 2021, there was no executive structure in place.

Until Dan Ashworth arrived as sporting director in June 2022, and then Darren Eales as CEO that August, Staveley and Ghodoussi were among the most senior day-to-day decision-makers. They were heavily involved in transfer negotiations, especially during the consortium’s first two windows in charge, with Staveley holding discussions with Lille’s owners regarding Sven Botman’s acquisition and latterly with Farhad Moshiri when Newcastle signed Anthony Gordon from Everton.

Staveley was also influential in bringing Newcastle’s women’s team under the club’s umbrella for the first time in its history. They went full-time professional last season in the third tier, securing back-to-back promotions into the FA Women’s Championship. She regularly attended matches at both Kingston Park and St James’ Park.

Even after Ashworth and Eales’ appointments, the pair remained hands-on, and there were some suggestions that the previous sporting director was frustrated by the British owners’ continued influence. As Newcastle rushed to comply with the Premier League’s profitability and sustainability rules (PSR) by June 30, Staveley and Ghodoussi — along with Eales and the recruitment department — frantically attempted to secure sales to plug a £50m-plus shortfall, which was achieved.

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Last week’s announcement that Mitchell has succeeded Ashworth as sporting director, following a search that lasted over four months, perhaps takes on an even greater significance in hindsight. With Eales to oversee the business side of Newcastle and Mitchell to lead the sporting operation, it seems Staveley and Ghodoussi stepping aside comes at a relatively natural juncture.

There is no longer a skeletal staffing structure at St James’ as there was under Ashley. Eales and Mitchell are the dual figureheads who report to the board, though there is no longer a conduit between director level and the rest of the club, an almost unique position which Staveley assumed.

More subtly, and unofficially, it could be argued that the pair offered partial distance between Newcastle’s ultimate ownership and the domestic face of the club. While criticism and scrutiny of the Saudi-backed takeover has taken place, Staveley and Ghodoussi’s visible presence at matches and club events has ensured sizeable coverage of their involvement.

Staveley and Ghodoussi departing changes the external optics and it remains to be seen whether PIF officials become more prominent publicly as a result.


What does it mean for Eddie Howe?

In the immediate term, nothing much, with the head coach focusing on pre-season training. Players will report to pre-season on a staggered basis, with some returning today, before a programme which will take the squad to Germany and Japan in the coming weeks.

Transfer discussions are also continuing behind the scenes, though Mitchell’s arrival means he has taken overarching responsibility for recruitment. Howe is keen for further reinforcements to arrive, with a right winger, centre-back and forward the priorities.

Beyond that, Howe has multiple years remaining on the “long-term contract” he signed in August 2022. However, speculation is mounting that the 46-year-old will be high on the FA’s wanted list to succeed Gareth Southgate, should the latter depart as England manager following Euro 2024, as is appearing increasingly likely.

Howe has aspirations to lead his country in the future, but he thrives on day-to-day coaching and has distanced himself from the role in the short to medium term when he has been asked about it previously. Should the FA make an approach, both Newcastle and Howe may have a decision to make.

Clearly, Howe has lost two of most vocal advocates at the club who argued his case at executive level, backed the head coach and showed empathy over issues he highlighted.

Jamie Reuben, who is on Newcastle’s board, was an early proponent and was especially impressed during Howe’s Zoom interview for the role. He, like Staveley and Ghodoussi, embraced and supported the head coach once he was appointed following the botched attempt to lure Unai Emery from Villarreal.

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Staveley has been a vocal supporter of Howe since he arrived (Stu Forster/Getty Images)

During an interview with The Athletic in February 2022, Staveley said: “We hope and think that Eddie will be with us for a very long time.” Ghodoussi was even more effusive in his praise, pointing to that desired longevity and stating he “would love Eddie to be the next Alex Ferguson“. They genuinely felt Howe had the capabilities of building a dynasty at St James’.

With a fresh sporting director in place — who did not appoint Howe — and with two of his most loyal allies at boardroom level gone, the head coach is perhaps less protected than he was previously. There may be greater scrutiny surrounding the remainder of the signings Newcastle make this summer, while the pressure may have subtly increased on Howe ahead of the 2024-25 campaign.

Yasir Al-Rumayyan, PIF’s governor and Newcastle’s chairman, wants the club to be “No 1”, and he may not share Staveley and Ghodoussi’s patience when it comes to on-field improvement.

If the Champions League represented a massive leap forwards in 2022-23, last season’s seventh place was viewed by some — perhaps unfairly, given the context of where the club has come from — as a campaign of partial regression. With no European football to stretch his squad, it feels like there is an opportunity for Newcastle in the league and domestic cups, and Howe will want to impress the reformed hierarchy.

Howe will likely seek clarification on what the club’s vision is now, where precisely he fits into that, and how much control he will have over areas such as recruitment.

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What does it mean for Newcastle Women?

A passion project for Staveley, she described the players as “my babies” and told The Athletic earlier this year that “the women’s team has a very special part in my heart.”

She leaves with Becky Langley’s side now fully professional and two divisions higher than before they became an official part of the club. Newcastle women are now just one promotion away from the Women’s Super League (WSL).

Ahead of the 2024-25 Championship campaign, they have already made a series of big signings, including Claudia Moan from Sunderland, the goalkeeper who was the second tier’s player of the season last year, and Shania Hayles, the Jamaica forward, from Bristol City.

On the day Staveley’s exit was confirmed, Newcastle also announced the arrival of 69-cap England international Demi Stokes. The defender, who was brought up in the north-east, joins from Manchester City.

The 32-year-old is very much a statement signing, suggesting that the owners’ blueprint for the women’s team remains undiminished.

But, with Staveley no longer the driving force, and Mitchell assuming responsibility for all footballing operations, where precisely Newcastle women fit into the overall vision needs clarifying.

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Will Staveley be replaced on the board?

Staveley is one of five members of Newcastle’s board, but Ghodoussi has never been an official club director.

Jamie Reuben, son of David, is the Reuben family’s representative on the Newcastle board, alongside three members of PIF.

Al-Rumayyan is the chairman, while Abdulmajid Alhagbani, head of MENA (Middle East and North Africa) Securities Investments at PIF, and Asmaa Rezeeq — whose remit for the sovereign wealth fund includes sourcing global investments — are the other directors. Majed Al Sorour, the former chief executive of Saudi Golf, was previously on the board, but vacated his position almost 18 months ago.

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Newcastle chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan meeting King Charles last year (Daniel Leal/WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Part of the reason for the year-and-a-half delay in the Premier League ratifying the takeover was the issue of separation.

As The Athletic reported last year, emails suggested the Premier League insisted upon Al-Rumayyan becoming a non-executive chairman, given his own lawyers described him as a “sitting minister” of the Saudi government, and that “someone”, who was presumed to be Staveley, should be appointed to run the club.

The Premier League has confirmed that, generally speaking, if a club wants to appoint a new “director”, they must undergo the Owners’ and Directors’ Test (OADT).

The OADT was updated last year and any prospective owner, part-owner or club director must meet a number of requirements to pass. One of the newer provisions is for potential human rights abuses, based on Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations in 2020.

It is unclear whether PIF would have any issues regarding separation or those new provisions if they were to put another official forward for the OADT, though their three present board members must have passed already as it is an annual requirement.


What does this mean for the club’s future?

While supporters may be surprised by this development, there was always an expectation from the moment the takeover went through that Staveley and Ghodoussi would sell their stake and move on. Some even predicted they would depart far earlier.

Yet, given how the duo have become inextricably linked with the club in the post-Ashley period, their exits appear to signal the start of a new era.

What is unclear is whether this points to a more direct role for PIF, or if Eales and Mitchell will be given substantial autonomy to run the club on a day-to-day basis. Whenever significant finance has been involved, PIF has required ultimate sign-off anyway, but whether officials take on more active duties remains to be seen.

Al-Rumayyan and PIF’s stated ambition is to turn Newcastle into an elite outfit who are Champions League regulars and serial trophy winners. Every indication is that those aspirations remain, but perhaps this represents an attempt to expedite the process further.

Whether there will be an increased association with Saudi is also to be determined.

There have already been Saudi-inspired kits, the Saudi national team playing on Tyneside and several PIF-owned companies partnering with the club, but Staveley and Ghodoussi’s visibility kept a degree of nominal separation from Newcastle. That, too, may be about to change.

(Top photo: Staveley, Howe and Ghodoussi; Stu Forster via Getty Images)



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