The Premier League have been taken for fools with their handling of Newcastle’s takeover

How do we define the biggest mug in a mugging? Is it the guy selling a dog that looks, sounds and smells like a rat? Or is it the stooge who has a good idea of what dangles beneath their nose but won’t sniff out the obvious? Or is it a third mug, the sort who is just happy to believe mugs one and two if Migi Almiron stays on as a Mag?

They are the sort of questions that have wafted in on the breeze in the past few days, or more precisely when we think about Newcastle United’s ownership and the associated stench of humiliation around the Premier League.

There are plenty of words to be scrawled on this Pandora’s box of a subject, but sometimes it is useful to start with a number, so let’s go with 459. 

That’s how many days passed between a pair of comments that make uneasy companions, and which have sparked a curiosity about how the Premier League plan to exit a puddle of their own making.

The first of those dates to November 26 of 2021, when the League’s chief executive Richard Masters told the BBC he had secured ‘legally binding assurances’ that the rulers of Saudi Arabia would not be in control of Newcastle. 

Newcastle’s ownership is under fresh scrutiny after chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan (left) was named as a sitting minister of the Saudi government in legal papers in a US court

Eddie Howe has insisted he is focusing on football rather than the scrutiny over Newcastle's ownership

Eddie Howe has insisted he is focusing on football rather than the scrutiny over Newcastle’s ownership

That having blocked the takeover by Saudi’s Public Investment Fund the previous year, he was finally satisfied there was a sufficient corporate difference between the PIF and the state of crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, which in 2020 had been drawing the Premier League’s attention for the piracy of their overseas coverage. 

It would be lovely to think they put the same onus on the bonesaws and other areas that might look iffy in the owners’ and directors’ test, but that could risk flying a little close to where this column began.

Instead we should go to those ‘assurances’ and the deeper meaning they acquired this week, when another set of comments came to light on February 28. 

That was the day papers were lodged in a San Jose court as part of the LIV golf squabble and they said something a little inconvenient regarding Yasir Al-Rumayyan, who is best known as the governor of the PIF when he isn’t the chairman of Newcastle United.

The purpose of the legal papers, submitted by Al-Rumayyan’s lawyers, was to argue he and the PIF should be exempt from testifying and the various processes of discovery in the LIV ruckus with the PGA Tour. 

That is because they ‘are not ordinary third parties subject to basic discovery relevance standards. They are a sovereign instrumentality of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and a sitting minister of the Saudi government’.

It would seem those initial assurances Masters spoke about have been opened to a little more scrutiny. And from there we might mishandle that old theory of chaos: when a butterfly flaps its wings in a dispute between golf tours in San Jose, a brown, fly-covered lump appears on the carpet of the Premier League’s office in Paddington.

So let’s go back to those 459 days and another number: 30,500,000,000 is the number of pennies in the £305million takeover by the Saudis. So when did the metaphorical penny drop for Masters? Was it when Newcastle changed the third kit to green and white? Or Newcastle’s tour to Riyadh in December?

But maybe Masters and the Premier League just didn’t see what was so clear to you, me and the fans in the headdresses at St James’ Park from the outset. Maybe now is a good time to sell them a bridge.

Premier League chief Richard Masters was given assurances Newcastle would not be controlled by the rulers of Saudi Arabia

Premier League chief Richard Masters was given assurances Newcastle would not be controlled by the rulers of Saudi Arabia

Of course any sniping should be viewed through an understanding of the pressures from Saudi lawyers and our own government at the most fraught times of the takeover — when Mohammed bin Salman is texting Boris Johnson to intervene, you can see how a sporting organisation, even a peacock as proud as the Premier League, can lose a little of its strut.

So we can be sensible about it. But at the very least this is immensely embarrassing, particularly in a week when LaLiga president Javier Tebas visited London and criticised their handling of the Manchester City affair. 

He pointed to sponsorship being on the line, along with the Premier League’s reputation. We might take those as the words of a rival sporting organisation with its own weeds in the lawn, but that doesn’t mean he is wrong.

What is more fascinating is Masters’ next course of action, and whether he will follow up something else he said in that BBC interview, which is that if his organisation found evidence of state involvement in the running of Newcastle ‘we can remove the consortium as owners of the club’. 

With the Premier League declining to comment on recent developments, we are left to wonder where the court papers lodged on Al-Rumayyan’s behalf fall on the evidence scales.

While they mull it over, Newcastle’s rivals are descending like jackals and Amnesty International is also imploring a re-examination of those November 2021 assurances.

Newcastle's change of ownership has allowed them to spend big on players like Alexander Isak

Newcastle’s change of ownership has allowed them to spend big on players like Alexander Isak

We can likely guess Amnesty and the other sides of our top flight used different fuels to reach that same destination, but to avoid becoming discredited, the Premier League will need to listen. 

In other words, they need to show the dog is a dog, and not what it looks, sounds and smells like. Or they can show that it is something else and react accordingly. Either way, it would seem to be imperative that they are transparent in their workings to the bottom of this.

Then again, it is the sporting era of hollow words and shallower deeds, when LIV rebels describe a dumpster fire of their making as an act of ‘growing golf’, and eggs have become a route out of a bind for troubled boxers, so maybe holding one’s breath for a satisfying outcome is not to be advised. 

Clarity, honesty and competence and ideally all three at once — what mug would buy into such a silly and unrealistic idea?

Bazball can even make losing fun

For England to lose that extraordinary second Test to New Zealand was faintly absurd. So were the tactics at its root, to go by most sensible analysis.

In duller times such a first-innings lead simply wouldn’t become a pathway to that particular kind of outcome.

But sometimes we learn more about teams in defeat than victory, and with that in mind it is a rather enjoyable thought that a loss in the Stokes-McCullum era has the potential to be more fun than a win in many others.

Mourinho’s up to his old tricks

An update from the perennially oppressed Jose Mourinho, who in the past week has demonstrated that at 60 he still has the capacity to amaze.

Jose Mourinho accused the fourth official of speaking to him 'in an unacceptable way'

Jose Mourinho accused the fourth official of speaking to him ‘in an unacceptable way’

For instance, this was his reaction to a third red card of the season in Roma’s defeat at Cremonese: ‘Unfortunately, the fourth official doesn’t have the honesty to say what he said to me, how he said it and the way he treated me. I want to see if there’s an audio recording.

‘I don’t want to get into the fact that he’s from Turin, that we have to play Juventus and he wants me off the touchline. I want to get into the fact that for the first time in my career, a referee, and in this case a fourth official, spoke to me in an unacceptable way.’ 

Even if we skirt around a quite astonishing accusation, and one he really, sincerely and truly didn’t want to get into, there is something remarkable in that diatribe.

After all these years no official has ever reacted to him in an unacceptable way? And still people persist in abusing these saints.

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