A defence of Newcastle United

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Football can be a strange game at times. Who would have thought that Kieran Trippier, who just last summer won La Liga with Atlético Madrid and played a part in England’s run to the final at Euro 2020, would choose to trade the sunny skies and European competition of Madrid for a relegation battle at St. James’ Park?

Of course, there is an obvious potential explanation for this: money. Since Mike Ashley controversially sold the club to Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund last year, they’ve been frequently referred to as the richest clubs in the world.

This newfound wealth has been met with severe criticism from other Premier League clubs, opposition fans and politicians. This ranges from the Premier League implementing tighter financial rules to reign in Newcastle’s spending power, to opposition fans linking the takeover to an implicit endorsement of Saudi Arabia’s appalling human rights record. The criticism from across the football landscape has been strong and consistent. But is it all justified?

I believe it’s important to recognise the blatant hypocrisy of some of the Premier League’s most successful clubs criticising Newcastle’s takeover. Certain other clubs whose financial power comes from dubious sources (I’m looking at you, Chelsea and Manchester City) and have arguably “bought their way” to the top are now clearly fearful of the Magpies also potentially doing just that. Is it a fear of competition?

Are ‘little’ Newcastle United (never mind their four first division titles and 6 FA Cups) posing a legitimate threat to the precious profits of the so-called ‘Big Six’? Maybe we’ll never know the true, underlying reasons for the uproar this takeover triggered from other clubs, but we can certainly speculate. Let’s be honest, was it ever really about human rights?

It’s easy to assume that money was the one and only factor

I am not defending the actions of the state of Saudi Arabia, nor their record on human rights. Their government’s actions and attitudes towards minorities should absolutely be scrutinised and criticised. However, Newcastle United are far from the first football club to be funded by such regimes. For example, the United Arab Emirates – whose royal family own & control Manchester City – have been accused of torture and executing minorities, and the Qatari government (who own PSG) have been known to heavily discriminate against minorities and pay workers building their 2022 World Cup venues pitiful wages.

Did either of these takeovers generate this level of scrutiny and criticism when they took place over a decade ago? Takeovers of football clubs by dubious regimes are nothing new; if we are going to start truly opposing these takeovers (something which I would support), then we should do so to all such takeovers, not just the ones that threaten to challenge the big clubs.

Let’s return to the Kieran Trippier situation. Of course, he could stay in Madrid and continue to play at the summit of Spanish & European football, but why do that when you can earn gazillions of pounds a week fighting relegation and losing to third-tier sides in the cup?

It’s easy to assume that money was the one and only factor behind Trippier’s return to English football. However, is this really the case?

Playing overseas is a challenge for any player. This is especially true for Trippier, who had played in English football for his entire career up until his transfer to Atlético Madrid in 2019. 

He started his career at Manchester City and grew up in the north, playing exclusively for clubs in the north of England until his move to Tottenham in 2015. Newcastle isn’t that far from Manchester, right? It’s certainly much closer to home than Madrid, and as I’m sure we’re all aware as Durham students, the North-East is truly the place-to-be if you want to live up north.

In all seriousness, it’s highly possible that Trippier’s move to Newcastle wasn’t primarily motivated by money, but by the human desire to be close to the people we care about the most. However, maybe he just missed the experience of living in the north; if we ever see him devouring a Gregg’s sausage roll, Wayne Shaw-style, on the St. James’ Park touchline we know why!

Trippier is likely to be far from the last big-name, big-money signing Newcastle make over the next few years. Criticism towards their new Saudi Arabian owners is certainly justified, but if we’re going to condemn the Magpies for their takeover, then it’s time we do the same for the other clubs funded by similar regimes. But as a result of this takeover, we know that there’s a good chance Newcastle will be challenging the top six soon – even if this is probably going to be in the Championship.

Image: mari via flickr

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