The news that a takeover of Newcastle United is imminent has provoked much celebration amongst Newcastle fans – rejoicing that the loathed regime of Mike Ashley may be over.
But Geordies may want to be careful what they wish for. It might surprise them that their replacement owners could offer up even bigger moral challenges than Ashley.
Not for nothing does Pep Guardiola get tetchy when the ownership of Manchester City comes under scrutiny – he’s vocal about the human rights of Catalans in his home country of Spain, but mute when it comes to human rights in the UAE, whose rulers own City.
And this is the moral morass that Newcastle could be heading towards.
As she did at City, dealmaker Amanda Stavely is using her Middle Eastern contacts to leverage the purchase of a major Premier League club.
But this time the money, or at least 80% of it, is from the Saudi Arabia Public Investment fund.
So why do Middle Eastern countries want to invest in football – at City, Qatar at Paris St Germain and now the Saudis in Newcastle? It’s not for the money.
A tweak to the oil price here and there and the money even in this deal becomes nothing more than a rounding error.
It’s not as if the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has ever been glimpsed in the Gallowgate end, and it’s unlikely he can freely discuss the merits of the Kevin Keegan era over a pint of Newcastle Brown.
It’s nothing more than sportswashing, as Amnesty International said yesterday.
Known as ‘soft power’ in foreign policy circles, it’s the idea that an association with something widely enjoyed can ease any reputational pressure.
Get your country associated with the glamour of high-end sport (bear with me, Newcastle fans) and minds switch to football when they hear your country mentioned.
So people don’t get so angsty when your own government sells them weapons, and turn a blind eye to the human rights issues and just think of the Champions League spot.
Rather than, say, the brutal, state-sponsored murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, or the 800 executions performed since 2015, or the involvement in a brutal war in Yemen.
The ‘fit and proper person’ test for Premier League owners doesn’t cover human rights.
And if you’re fed up of watching Andy Carroll lope after another hopeless pass, then you may be OK with Saudi cash.
The petro-dollars may bring some big names to the North East and there may be a rather more glamorous manager too.
On the field, it may all suddenly become rosy.
But while Ashley’s workers may be pretty appallingly treated and the club may be well rid of him, keep in mind he never actually killed anyone.
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