Newcastle dream big after Saudi-led takeover despite human rights fears

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Newcastle are dreaming of Premier League glory after the Saudi-led consortium behind the blockbuster takeover outlined their "ambitious" plans but Amnesty International branded the deal a "bitter blow for human rights defenders".

Thousands of jubilant supporters swarmed to Newcastle's St James' Park stadium after the drawn-out £305 million ($415 million) deal was agreed, chanting "we've got our club back".

The takeover was rubber-stamped by the Premier League on Thursday after it received legally binding assurances that Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, which has an 80 percent stake in the club, was not acting on behalf of the kingdom's government.

That is despite the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, being listed as the PIF's chairman.

The takeover brings to an end the 14-year reign of the deeply unpopular sportswear tycoon Mike Ashley.

Retired warehouseman Justin Cowan, speaking to AFP outside St James' Park on Friday, admitted there were concerns among supporters over the new ownership but said most were buoyant.

"It's great for the city," he said. "It's absolutely brilliant. They have got human rights issues. Everyone knows that, but we need this.

"We need it so bad. The club, the city, we've been put down loads of times. We're a sleeping giant and it's about time. It's lovely for the club and for the region. Everyone's happy."

Luke Watson, 29, a warehouse worker, also welcomed the takeover.

"I'm so happy it's unreal," he said. "Now we've got someone that wants to invest in the club and take the club somewhere."

Newcastle's new chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan stoked the fans' excitement in an open letter, promising to deliver a team they can be proud of.

"Most importantly, you can expect ambition. Like you, we want to create a consistently successful team. We're here to build long-term success for the club," he wrote on Friday.

"Owning this club is not a responsibility we have taken on lightly and we will never lose sight of what it means to be part of Newcastle United."

- Sleeping giant -

Newcastle, languishing second from bottom of the Premier League without a win in seven games, are nevertheless one of the best-supported clubs in the English top-flight.

The "Toon Army" routinely fill St James' Park to its 52,000 capacity, but Newcastle have not won a major trophy since 1969.

The club's new owners will hope to follow the template established by reigning Premier League champions Manchester City, who have become serial trophy winners since a 2008 takeover by Sheikh Mansour, a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family.

New director Amanda Staveley, a driving force behind the takeover, vowed to transform the club into Premier League champions in the long-term.

"Of course we have the same ambitions as Manchester City and PSG in terms of trophies, absolutely, but that will take time," Staveley told the Daily Mail.

"Do we want to win the Premier League within five to 10 years? Yes. We want to see trophies. But trophies need investment, time, patience and team work."

Staveley said she had spoken to under-fire boss Steve Bruce and while she insisted no decisions had been made about the future of the manager, his departure seems likely.

Bruce said he wanted to continue but accepted he may be replaced.

But despite glee among the fans, the takeover deal was greeted with dismay by Amnesty, who described it as "an extremely bitter blow for human rights defenders".

Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty UK's CEO, said: "We can understand that this will be seen as a great day by many Newcastle United fans, but it's also a very worrying day for anyone who cares about the ownership of English football clubs and whether these great clubs are being used to sportswash human rights abuse."

Saudi Arabia faced international condemnation following the brutal murder of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom's Istanbul consulate three years ago.

Hatice Cengiz, the fiancee of Khashoggi, said the Saudi-backed takeover was "heartbreaking".

"I am very disappointed," she told the BBC. "What I've been doing since his murder is seeking justice for Jamal every day, every chance that I found or every place I can go and ask more.

"Then suddenly, I saw the news and people were talking about the takeover and I said 'please, do not do that, please be respectful to yourself'."

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