Newcastle United’s Strange New Suitors

by | Aug 18, 2020

What, ultimately, is the value of something? Well, there are different ways of looking at it. A study by University of Liverpool Management School football finance expert Kieran Maguire earlier this year valued the clubs at £387m.  Newcastle United, however, are up for sale for £300m. Others might argue that, at the end of the day, the value of something is what somebody is prepared to pay for it, in a free market.

Somewhere along the line it feels odd that, having been up for sale almost twelve years ago, they’ve only had one buyer who could reach an agreement. And they were, well, those guys. Let’s not get back onto that subject. It’s exhausting. The Saudi consortium does seem to have fallen silent. The Premier League, however, has finally lumbered to life. Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah wrote to them and finally received a response from Richard Masters, which outlined their side of their involvement in this story thus far.

Because of the level of investment, the considered the PIF to be shadow directors of the company, and that as such would need to be assessed under the Owners & Directors Test. They disagreed with this and refused both to put the matter to arbitration or provide the further documentation required by the Premier League in order to be assessed. It didn’t get as far as going into any detail about the beoutQ issue because they flat refused to be assessed in the first place, and then a couple of weeks later just withdrew of their own accord.

Shadow directorships are well entrenched in company law and they’re not illegal, so long as everyone is aware that they have the same obligations as whoever’s name is registered with Companies House. All football governing bodies rightly mirror that approach towards them. If the people that the Premier League consider will be de facto directors or persons of significant interest in the club refuse to be assessed because their names aren’t on the paperwork AND arbitration, then there was never likely  to be any other outcome.

But then in stepped the apparently Paris-based Bellagraph Nova Group, which claims to have enlisted the help of former Newcastle strikers Alan Shearer and Michael Chopra, and to have submitted a letter of intent and proof of funds for a £280m offer for the club. There are two problems, here. Firstly, it has now been reported that Ashley has put the price up to £350m, now that the Saudis have pulled out. Secondly, something about this Bellagraph Nova Group doesn’t feel right, though it’s difficult to say what.

According to a breathless report in the Newcastle Chronicle:

A Far East consortium have claimed they have turned to Newcastle United legend Alan Shearer for guidance on a bid to buy the Magpies.

Singaporean cousins and entrepreneurs Terence Loh and Nelson Loh have had contact with Mike Ashley’s legal team about a possible purchase but their first proposal was understood to be deemed too low at around £275million – and talk of a £10million introduction fee has irked the Toon owner.

The cousins are the founders of Bellagraph Nova Group – with Ms Evangeline Shen – which owns over 30 entities across 100 countries in businesses, including finance, sports, healthcare, luxury goods, entertainment and robotics.

The Paris-based firm is thought to be worth an estimated $15.6 billion but Ashley will again ask them to put their money where their mouth is.

Meanwhile on social media, Newcastle supporters were getting fretful. Who the hell were these people? Photos started circulating of them with Barack Obama which some have claimed were photoshopped. We’ll leave it up to you to decide for yourselves. Others reported back on their Wix-built corporate website (not often the sign of a corporate titan, but it’s all there in the page source code), and let’s take a brief look at this claim from their website:

The Group currently employs 23,000 people across the world and reported sales of 12 billion Usd in 2019.

Hang on, though – 23,000 staff? That’s the same number of people as work for the BBC! That’s a vast number of people! So why the hell am I utterly unable to find anyone who owns up to working for this company on Twitter? Are they banned from even mentioning who they work for on social media, and in the (frankly unlikely) case that they are, then why? What on earth are you employing them to do? For all we know, those 23,000 people are manning someone’s Fortress of Solitude, or something.

Oh, that’s not quite what it means, is it? Well, you might want to be a little clearer on that than saying, “The Group currently employs 23,000 people across the world”, next time.

But anyway, on to Evangeline Shen. Her profile on the Bellagraph Nova website lists her as having started her career “at Jinmao LLP, one of Asia’s leading law firms.” Overlooking the fact that it’s spelt wrong – it’s “Jin Mao” not “Jinmao” – maybe we’ll find a reference to her brilliance th… Ah.

Their entire website is down at the moment, quite possibly as a result of the hordes of Newcastle supporters rushing to check them out over the last 24 hours. You’d think such a corporate behemoth would have better web hosting.

But that could just be a coincidence. It starts to feel less so when we see nothing on Google for her having worked for Morgan Stanley that she doesn’t seem to have written herself, and the same for the other companies that she states that she has worked for, UBS and Haitong Securities. Then she started a jewellery company which, yes, has a website, though you can’t buy anything from it and it doesn’t tell you the price of anything, so it would be difficult to describe it so much as a “shop” as “a website with some pictures of jewels on it.”

I’d love to be proved wrong over this. Believe it or not, I take very little pleasure in delivering bad news on these pages, and I happen to think that while there are definitely supporters who’ve had it worse, the pallid state of Newcastle United is something that everybody wants to see change. But I just don’t see it. If this woman genuinely is the business genius that she claims to be, I’d be expecting to see her face plastered high on the walls at Morgan Stanley’s corporate headquarters. How does such a mighty brain fly under the radar for such a long time? I’d love to be proved wrong, but I just don’t see it.

So, what is the value of Newcastle United? If Kieran Maguire is right, Mike Ashley is already offering close to 10% off, even after the £50m hoiking up of the price a couple of weeks ago. But Bellagraph Nova value Newcastle United at £280m, and there’s been nothing to suggest that they will be increasing their bid. There is one group of people who know the value of Newcastle United, and that’s the supporters. But they’re just stuck in the middle as this centrepoint of the community, this almost 130 year old institution, is treated as a mere commodity to be traded and nothing more. No wonder so many of them are getting so sick ot it all.