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Abu Dhabi's success in growing Manchester City gives a blueprint for the new would-be owners

Newcastle United FC takeover: The quiet billionaire brothers who prefer to shun the limelight

Fans will want to see investment in new players to help the team compete domestically and in Europe; Newcastle United hasn’t won a major trophy for more than half a century and has had to endure the financial hit of relegation twice since 2009.

If the takeover of Newcastle United Football Club is approved by the Premier League, fans of the UK soccer team will be swapping one brash British billionaire for two intensely private ones.

The buying consortium is led by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and includes the Reuben family, headed by brothers David, 81, and Simon, 79, who have kept a lower profile than retail entrepreneur Mike Ashley, Newcastle’s divisive owner since 2007.

The Reubens have stayed out of the spotlight despite running one of the world’s biggest portfolios of retail, office and residential properties, including a swath of high-end London real estate. Last month, they made a push into New York.

With a family fortune estimated at $12 billion by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, the brothers have long shunned the limelight. In a rare interview in 2004, Simon Reuben told a reporter: “It goes against all my instincts to talk to a journalist.”

Maintaining that level of discretion may become harder as the Reubens pursue a deal for Newcastle, one of the best-supported clubs in England. Its stadium lies in the heart of Newcastle upon Tyne, a city in the northeast of England, and drew average crowds of more than 50,000 from 2013 to 2018, according to CIES Football Observatory.

“The Reuben brothers will experience a level of scrutiny they have never been exposed to before,” said Kieran Maguire, a lecturer on football finance at the University of Liverpool. “The fans, who are a passionate bunch, will be monitoring companies they are involved in and they will be kept up-to-date with Google alerts.”

“You need a thick skin,” said Charlie Methven, co-owner of Sunderland AFC, Newcastle’s local rival. It’s “a profound culture shock for people who haven’t been inside a football environment,’ he said.

Newcastle’s supporters, known as the Toon Army, are considered among the loudest in the UK, and recent match day boycotts and protests against Ashley’s management offer the potential buyers an indication of the fan pressures of modern soccer team ownership.

'Football is 24/7'

The merits and objectives behind the 300 million pound ($372.5 million) deal being proposed by the Saudi consortium, which also includes the British businesswoman Amanda Staveley, are already stirring debate in the sports press and on social media, including on YouTube channel Newcastle Fans TV.

Saudi Arabia’s PIF will hold about 80% of Newcastle if the takeover is completed, leaving 20% for the Reubens and Staveley, according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because the details are private.

Fans will want to see investment in new players to help the team compete domestically and in Europe; Newcastle United hasn’t won a major trophy for more than half a century and has had to endure the financial hit of relegation twice since 2009.

“The owners will be influencing the hearts and minds of 50,000 Geordies and they expect something of you,” Maguire said at the University of Liverpool, referring to the colloquial term for people from Tyneside in the northeast. “Football is 24/7 for these fans.”

The commercial opportunity of a UK soccer club may explain the Reubens’ willingness to expose themselves to the greater public inspection of owning a team - the rewards can be considerable if things go according to plan.

An Abu Dhabi-led group of investors paid about 200 million pounds, according to press reports at the time, for Premier League outfit Manchester City in 2008 and sold a roughly 10% stake in the club’s owner City Football Group Ltd. to private equity firm Silver Lake for $500 million last year.

Representatives for the Reuben family and Saudi Arabia’s PIF declined to comment. A representative for Staveley didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Existing assets

The deal would also dovetail with other Reuben business interests in Newcastle, once one of Britain’s industrial powerhouses. The family owns a racecourse and is developing a 600,000-square-foot retail and leisure space in the city.

“Newcastle has a huge fan base and stadium and 300 million pounds isn’t a lot of money for such an asset,” said Mark Shipman of Michael Elliott, a commercial property investment adviser. “They already have a strong commitment to the town of Newcastle through their property and racing interests and they see this as an expansion of their leisure interests.”

David and Simon Reuben were born in Mumbai, then called Bombay. The sons of Jewish parents from Iraq, they moved to London as teenagers and later set up metal trader Trans-World in the 1970s.

In 1991, the brothers opened an office in Russia and began buying controlling stakes in aluminium plants there and in neighbouring Ukraine. Five years later, they were the world’s third-largest producer of the metal. They sold their interest in Trans-World to Russia’s Oleg Deripaska in 2000 for $250 million, investing the proceeds in real estate, leisure interests and technology companies.

Since 2016, the Reubens have sold out of one of their most successful investments, the data centre company Global Switch. In late April, the brothers struck a roughly $170 million deal for a retail condo at 609 Fifth Ave. in Manhattan from SL Green Realty Corp.

Next generation

If a deal goes through, one Reuben more likely to be spotted in the directors’ box at St James’ Park stadium is David’s son Jamie, who turns 34 this month. Jamie could take a seat on the Newcastle board, according to one person familiar with the discussions.

He’s already a director of the family’s Arena Racing Co. and of the west London soccer club Queens Park Rangers, where his friend Amit Bhatia, the son-in-law of steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal, is chairman.

Jamie Reuben also appears more comfortable with the media than his father or uncle. He agreed to be interviewed for a feature in the Times newspaper this year and his Twitter account - updated regularly with posts on soccer, politics and business - has 10,300 followers.

In late January, when news emerged that the Reubens were interested in Newcastle, supporters of the club unearthed a 2018 tweet from Jamie in which he said he was a fan and pleaded with him to do a deal. They may be about to get their wish.

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