Newcastle United have announced they will host two international friendly matches at St James’ Park in September.
The games will feature the Saudi Arabia men’s team, who are preparing to take on Costa Rica and South Korea in four days at the start of next month.
The latest development further highlights the relationship between the Gulf nation and the Magpies, who are owned by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund (PIF).
When the PIF completed the Newcastle takeover in October 2021, the club and the Premier League strongly emphasised that the ownership was separate from the Saudi state.
However, recent occurrences have cast doubt on their assertion, especially with the Magpies entering into an annual £25 million shirt sponsorship agreement with Sela, a prominent Saudi event company.
Newcastle’s away kit also adds to the scepticism as it bears a shade of green closely resembling the Saudi flag.
The decision to host the Saudis on their home ground will only raise further questions.
The Middle East nation is preparing for the 2024 AFC Asian Cup tournament in Qatar, which is scheduled to kick off in January 2024.
The Saudis rocked the globe at the 2022 World Cup when they beat Argentina in their inaugural match, marking one of the most astonishing surprises of the tournament.
However, the subsequent course of the competition unfolded very differently for both countries as the Saudis faltered in their final two group games, while Lionel Messi inspired Argentina to the World Cup title.
Having orchestrated the astonishing feat over the eventual World champions, Herve Renard relinquished his role as Saudi manager after the competition.
The position has been vacant since then, but they seem to have found his successor in time for the Asian Cup, with ex-Italy boss Roberto Mancini emerging as the primary candidate.
Mancini has reportedly held talks about replacing Renard. If he assumes the position, his debut game as Saudi manager could come at St James’ Park next month.
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