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Newcastle's new Saudi Arabia kit is provocative sportswashing at its very worst

Design and colour of club's new third strip appear to make a mockery of the idea that Newcastle is not controlled by the Saudi state

Credit: TWITTER/NIKE

It is the opposite of subtle. In fact, it is possibly the most provocative example of overt sportswashing seen in British football as Newcastle United have changed one of their kits into the same colours and design as the Saudi Arabia national team.

This was no accident. Someone thought it was a really good idea. Newcastle have been made to look like they are playing for Saudi Arabia, the country which effectively owns the club through its Public Investment Fund.

It instantly makes the ties between a nation state and an English football club look stronger, bolder and more blatant-  that is surely why it has been done.

It appears to make a mockery of the idea that Newcastle is not controlled by the Saudi state.

Those with inside knowledge of how things have been run since the takeover went through last October believe every major decision is signed off by chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan, who is based in Riyadh, in close proximity to the country’s ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Crown Prince is also the chairman of PIF.

Now the team will look like a Saudi side too when they step on to the pitch in their new third kit. Now they can truly represent the promotion of Saudi Arabia's global expansion project

Newcastle have not played in a white shirt, with a green badge, green trim and green manufacturer’s logo before. The only possible reason for choosing this kit design was that it is almost a direct copy of the one the Saudi national team will play in at the World Cup later this year.

“It is only a kit,” scream the more blindly loyal among Newcastle's passionate fanbase on social media. “Why are you making such a fuss about what the team’s third kit looks like,” they ask. “Get over it, grow up, move on. What about this, what about that.”

These are the people who will always defend their club, no matter what the defence is needed for. They increasingly leap to the defence of Saudi Arabia these days too.

Equally, though, for the first time since the initial controversy of the takeover, when all the concerns about allowing a nation state to own another English club, especially one with Saudi Arabia’s appalling human rights record, suppression of political opposition, treatment of women and members of the LGBQT community, as well as the horrific war in Yemen, were discussed and debated, there is unease on Tyneside too. 

Many fans feel this is too much to stomach. This feels too blatant. It gives the impression Newcastle are being used. 

It is also a stupid, unnecessary and self-inflicted public relations faux pas that will deservedly spark criticism.

Newcastle's new third kit has the same colours as the Saudi Arabia national team jersey Credit: AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Let us not forget that the Premier League said they had “legally binding assurances” that Newcastle would not be run by the Saudi state. Nine months later Newcastle have a kit that makes them look like the Saudi national team.

Telegraph Sport understands that the kit was chosen in conjunction with the manufacturer Castore, but someone at the club signed it off; someone had to think it was a good idea.

Perhaps the most ludicrous thing is that beyond Premier League survival Newcastle haven't really received any of the benefits of being owned by PIF yet. They are the richest club in the world in nickname only. They are not behaving like it.

Only this week, manager Eddie Howe, following similar off the record briefings by members of the club’s board, warned there would not be a huge amount of money invested this summer. Words like prudence have been bandied around. 

They are talking about, as they did under the previous owner, signing young players who they can get more cheaply and develop with resale value. That does not sound like a club that will be competing for all the game’s biggest honours within the next five years, as co-owner Amanda Staveley and her husband Mehrdad Ghoudoussi have repeatedly claimed in interviews.

Newcastle have not announced any new sponsorship deals since the takeover went through, which means their income streams are currently at the same level as they were under former owner Mike Ashley. 

PIF have pumped significant money in, around £100 million since October, but they have not shown any willingness - yet - to sign the sort of generous sponsorship packages that have turned Manchester City - owned by the ruling family in Abu Dhabi - into one of the world’s richest and most powerful football clubs.

So far all they have got to show for effectively being owned by the Saudi state is £93m in the January transfer window, £25m of which was spent on the 30-year-old Chris Wood from Burnley.

Chris Wood joined Newcastle from Burnley in January Credit: PA

If you were being flippant, it has not even been very good or effective sportswashing so far. Newcastle’s main success under their new owners, to date, has been avoiding relegation. The glory of the Saudi state currently sit 14th in the Premier League, two places below where they finished last season.

If Saudi Arabia wants to bask in the reflective success of Newcastle United, they are going to have to do rather more than this. 

Newcastle are a long way off challenging for any sort of silverware in their current guise. They are a mid-table Premier League side, who will be aiming for a top-10 finish next season.

That is all very sensible. Much of what Newcastle have done since October has been exactly that and Howe - who will now be asked lots of uncomfortable questions about the Saudi regime because of this new kit - has been an excellent appointment as manager

The engagement with fans, investing in the local community with time, resources and enthusiasm. All the talk of ambition, upgrading the training ground and eventually building a new one, these have all been positive things. 

But where is all the Saudi money that was hinted at when fans were celebrating the takeover? Where are the new sponsorship deals? Why is Howe operating with such a relatively small transfer budget this summer?

Maybe the fact this is only a change in kit colours is the problem. Newcastle are being dressed up to look like the Saudi national team but the might of the Saudi state has not been used, at least not yet, to make them resemble a successful football team.