OLIVER HOLT: Newcastle’s players should watch their step on grim tour of Saudi Arabia – Sound Health and Lasting Wealth

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It is a little over 20 years since a Newcastle United mid-season training break in Marbella ended with Craig Bellamy, Kieron Dyer and two other players being sent home in disgrace. Drink was taken, pranks were played on chairman Freddy Shepherd, an official club function was missed and the punishment was swift and uncompromising.

Not as swift and uncompromising as it will be if the successors of Bellamy, Dyer and the rest attempt any of the same tricks on their proposed break in Saudi Arabia later this month, where they will be asked to perform for their new paymasters, the Saudi Public Investment Fund.

Alcohol will not be available, which might be a good thing because playing a prank on the club’s new de facto owner, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the head of the PIF, would be rash. The last guy who upset him was carried out of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in bin liners. It would be an unfortunate way to deplete the squad in advance of the relegation battle that lies ahead.

Newcastle United will travel later this month to the home of its new Saudi Arabian owners

The owners will meet the squad including new signings Chris Wood and Kieran Tripper

The owners will meet the squad including new signings Chris Wood and Kieran Tripper

The owners will meet the squad including new signings Chris Wood and Kieran Tripper 

The club’s base within the country on their break is not yet known but if they are staying near Riyadh, the capital, any respectable sightseeing tour will take them to the place known colloquially as Chop Chop Square, the favoured site for public executions, which were ramped up again in the first half of last year. 

When I was in Riyadh in December 2019 for Anthony Joshua’s world heavyweight title rematch with Andy Ruiz Jnr, some of my colleagues went to Chop Chop Square on Friday afternoon, which is usually the appointed time for executions but this time the square was deserted. With visiting media in town and a public image to wash, maybe it was not thought politic to maintain usual practice.

The trip to Saudi Arabia will feel as if it is the moment when they take full ownership of Newcastle. Maybe it will give Eddie Howe, Kieran Trippier and Chris Wood, the regime’s first signings, pause for thought when they see that Sir Andy Murray has turned down mouth-watering sums to play exhibition events in Saudi Arabia because of his concerns about the regime’s much-criticised record on gay rights and women’s rights.

Meanwhile, Andy Murray turned down big sums to play exhibition events in Saudi Arabia

Meanwhile, Andy Murray turned down big sums to play exhibition events in Saudi Arabia

Meanwhile, Andy Murray turned down big sums to play exhibition events in Saudi Arabia

The club’s winter break will be another step in trying to massage that image and the Saudis will be desperate for Newcastle to start climbing the table now that they have started to throw their oil millions at team-building and the recruitment of a top-class manager in Howe.

Their recent £25 million purchase of Wood from relegation rivals Burnley was a prime example of the power that the Saudi investment has bought Newcastle, improving their chances and hobbling Burnley at the same time.

It is because of the money and the new signings that Newcastle are favoured to beat the drop. If that happens, the sportswashing will begin in earnest and, basking in the gratitude of the long-suffering home supporters, the Saudis will start to see a return on their investment. Maybe then, the players will be allowed to take their winter breaks in Marbella again.

Source: | This article originally belongs to Dailymail.co.uk

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