The world watched with interest as Qatar’s leader, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, touched down in Saudi Arabia, and was greeted by a hug from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
It is a moment that few would have predicted a few short months ago but as the Gulf Crisis nears a positive conclusion, many across the globe will welcome a new dawn for relations between the two countries.
Newcastle United fans are particularly interested in the outcome of the Gulf Cooperation Council and are holding out that the re-opening of borders and the warm embrace on the runway in the desert city of Al-Ula can present their wish – the Public Investment Fund led takeover of their club.
The fact that many were glued to their smartphones watching as the pair greeted each other only goes to show the understandable desperation to see their club bought by a group willing to turn it into a top side.
Yet at the same time, the coverage of these developments between Saudi and Qatar from outlets in the Kingdom or global media such as the Press Association, perhaps only goes to show how small a deal to buy Newcastle United is when it comes to Saudi Arabia’s strategy.
To people on Tyneside, such a deal is life-changing not only terms of the football club but potential investment within the city and region too – and while the Public Investment Fund, PCP and the Reuben Brothers have spent time and money putting together an ambitious plan for the club, the reality is that buying United bears no comparison to what these developments could bring for Saudi Arabia.
Some see the removal of the blockade as Saudi granting ‘a final diplomatic win’ as the Associated Press put it, to the outgoing Trump administration, while also making sure that relations with Preside-elect Joe Biden start off in promising circumstances.
The lifting of the blockade will undoubtedly play into what happens next regarding Saudi Arabia and Yemen, as well as relations with Iran.
Where does the Newcastle United takeover come into this? In one instance, it could be helped by the Saudi government legally allowing the broadcast of beIN Sports – which is worth millions of pounds to the Qatari owned TV network – that outcome, and the end to piracy in the Kingdom would understandably please many including the Premier League.
Yet where this comes on the agenda of smoothing over relations remains to be seen – in the last few years aside from the blockade which has his Qatar’s economy, we’ve seen a PR war of which Newcastle was arguably caught in the middle of but the takeover, and the resulting war of words, was just a small element of a bigger battle.
There’s no doubting smoothing of relations may help the PIF’s attempt to take over Newcastle but how quickly, and how far it smooths over the issues that the Premier League have with the deal is anyone’s guess. If the top flight continues with the notion that the PIF and the Saudi state are not separate entities, then an improvement in relations with Qatar may prove futile.
But for Newcastle United fans, it’s another boost to the never-ending cycle of hope – hopefully, it provides the outcome wanted.