Newcastle United’s majority owners, the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund (PIF), has taken ownership of the Saudi Pro League’s four leading clubs, including Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al Nassr and Al Ittihad, the side close to agreeing a deal to sign Karim Benzema.
As part of Saudi Arabia’s so-called “Sports Clubs Investment and Privatization Project,” the PIF has taken a 75% stake in each of Saudi champions Al Ittihad, reigning Asian champions Al Hilal, Al Ahli and Al Nassr, with the remaining 25% in each team being transferred to non-profit foundations from the Saudi Ministry of Sport.
All Saudi clubs were previously “owned but not controlled” by the Ministry of Sport.
Multi-club ownership of teams participating in the same competition is not permitted in major leagues across the world, including the Premier League and LaLiga, while UEFA has forced Red Bull-owned teams RB Leipzig and FC Salzburg to prove a distinct difference in their organisational structure to enable both sides to compete in European club competitions.
There are no such restrictions in Saudi Arabia, which enables the PIF to become majority shareholders in the four teams.
In a statement, the PIF tweeted that it will liaise with the Saudi Ministry of Sport to “work closely on all the necessary regulatory procedures.”
The Saudi PIF secured a majority stake in Newcastle in October 2021, despite the takeover initially being blocked by the Premier League amid concerns of Saudi government interference or control of the club’s hierarchy.
Since taking charge at St James’ Park, the PIF has hired manager Eddie Howe, injected significant funds into player recruitment and seen the team qualify for next season’s Champions League and a reach a first major final this century before losing to Manchester United in the Carabao Cup final in February.
Ronaldo’s move to Al Nassr in December, after his United contract was mutually cancelled last November, brought new spotlight onto the Saudi Pro League and ESPN reported in April that there are plans for clubs in the league to target up to 50 leading out-of-contract players in Europe’s major leagues this summer.
Benzema is close to agreeing a deal to sign for Al Ittihad following his departure from Real Madrid, while ESPN has reported that Al Hilal have made a lucrative offer for Lionel Messi to join them when his Paris Saint-Germain contract expires at the end of this month