Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 20 October 2019

Dubai financier Amanda Staveley: 'We're looking at a lot of Premier League clubs'

British businesswoman talks football, business and Brexit - and denies a rift with Newcastle owner Mike Ashley

Amanda Staveley, the British businesswoman, has tried to buy Newcastle United, but the talks broke down Pawan Singh / The National.
Amanda Staveley, the British businesswoman, has tried to buy Newcastle United, but the talks broke down Pawan Singh / The National.

Amanda Staveley has revealed that she remains keen on buying a Premier League football club – more than a year after a high-profile bid to purchase Newcastle United apparently broke down.

The British businesswoman told The National that her UAE-based firm, PCP Capital Partners, is considering investment possibilities related to a number of different football teams.

The 45-year-old also spoke out about her plans to invest significant sums in the UK despite Brexit, and to expand her company’s portfolio in the Middle East.

The financier reportedly made three offers for Newcastle in November 2017. But the planned takeover appeared to fall apart acrimoniously early last year, with a source close to club owner Mike Ashley, the sportswear tycoon, briefing that talks had “proved to be exhausting, frustrating and a complete waste of time”.

On Wednesday, however, Ms Staveley said that Newcastle, which is still for sale, remained “interesting” to PCP and insisted that she had “no issue” with Mr Ashley.

She refused to be drawn on whether any further negotiations had taken place to purchase the north-east club - considered one of European football’s sleeping giants - but confirmed she was still exploring a series of possibilities for investing in an English football side.

“We are big fans of Newcastle, big fans of the team,” she said. “We have no issue with Mr Ashley, that [the ‘time waster’ claim] is water under the bridge. It’s still an interesting club to us, the fans are fantastic, but we are looking at a lot of clubs.”

More than a decade ago, in 2008, Ms Staveley helped broker the deal that saw Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed take control of Manchester City.

She said any successful PCP-led takeover of an English side would not be followed by the same levels of lavish spending on players – the Premiership champions have spent around £1.3bn (Dh6.1bn) in transfer fees under Abu Dhabi-based ownership.

However, she said she was keen to follow Manchester City’s example by investing in the community surrounding any club in the event of a successful acquisition. Under Sheikh Mansour’s ownership, Manchester City has pumped significant sums into schemes to support health, the local economy and people with disabilities.

“I’m a total tomboy, I’m a football fan, I enjoy it very much,” Ms Staveley said. “We are sensible people who invest other people’s money. We would also put our own capital in – of course we would. But with financial fair play rules, all football clubs have to be financially stable.

“I am hugely proud of Man City – we are not looking at creating another Man City in terms of the huge levels of investment they’ve had on players.

"But what I love about Man City is how they have invested so well in Manchester, in the area. That’s really important, and the sort of thing we would want to do elsewhere.”

In terms of its more traditional activities, PCP is actively looking to support new schemes in the Middle East.

Amanda Staveley at the Milken Institute MENA Summit 2019, held in Abu Dhabi. Pawan Singh / The National
Amanda Staveley at the Milken Institute MENA Summit 2019, held in Abu Dhabi. Pawan Singh / The National

The firm is exploring new opportunities in both the UAE and Saudi Arabia in particular, and is looking to devote “significant” sums in areas such as property, hospitality, housing and infrastructure over the next 18 months.

PCP, which has built significant connections in the Gulf region, is reportedly backed by £28bn (Dh132bn) of funds. The company, meanwhile, also remains committed to UK investments, despite ongoing domestic turmoil over the country’s departure from the European Union.

I am a strong remainer, I was always a remainer, and Brexit was a poisoned chalice. But we have to deal with it.

Amanda Staveley

Ms Staveley said she did not know Theresa May, the UK Prime Minister, well, although she has met her on several occasions.

Although talks are expected to go to the wire - with the UK currently due to leave the EU on March 29 and no agreement in place - Ms Staveley said she remained confident Britain would not leave the EU without a withdrawal deal.

Ms May has refused to rule out a ‘no deal’ scenario, which, it is widely predicted, would lead to economic and logistical chaos. But Ms Staveley expressed some sympathy with the Prime Minister’s predicament.

“I don’t think no deal will happen,” she said. “[But] if you really want to negotiate with someone, you have to look them in the eye and say ‘I’m prepared to walk away from the table with nothing’.

“I am a strong remainer, I was always a remainer, and Brexit was a poisoned chalice. But we have to deal with it.”

Areas such as affordable house building schemes, designed to offer young professionals a chance at home ownership, have been earmarked by PCP as offering attractive investment opportunities in the UK, whatever happens with Brexit.

Sports retail entrepreneur Mike Ashley has made an offer on music retailer HMV Group, which filed for insolvency last month. Photo: Reuters
Newcastle owner Mike Ashley. Reuters

Fittingly, Ms Staveley this week addressed the Milken Institute summit in Abu Dhabi, on the topic of ‘investing in volatile markets’.

“We’ve always found that the time to be bold, and make investments, is when markets are volatile,” she said.

“In the UK, volatility has risen beyond where many people feel comfortable with, but we use that and we are continuing to invest in the UK. Brexit or no Brexit, we will still very much be investing in the UK.”

Ms Staveley, who is originally from Yorkshire, was also clear that there should be no return to a hard border in Ireland, something she is passionate about for personal reasons.

The so-called ‘backstop’, an insurance policy built into Ms May’s proposed withdrawal agreement which has so far been rejected by the UK parliament, is designed to ensure there would be no return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland in the event of the UK failing to strike a trade deal with Brussels.

The issue has proven a major sticking point in negotiations between the UK government, Brussels and the British parliament.

There are fears that if a withdrawal agreement is not reached, divergent customs and regulatory regimes in Northern Ireland, part of the UK, and Ireland, part of the EU, would necessitate a return to a hard border. This would undermine the Good Friday peace agreement, which put an end to decades of sectarian conflict when it was struck in 1998.

“I have a mixed background – I have a Protestant father and part of my family is strongly Catholic,” Ms Staveley said.

“People now who are voting are not old enough to remember the Good Friday Agreement or the Troubles. It was hell. From the Irish point of view, some things are a red line and should remain so.”

Updated: February 15, 2019 09:56 AM

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