There is probably more chance of Saudi Arabia buying up San Francisco’s Pride festival and moving it to Riyadh than a football club taking a firm moral stance about who it deals with.

While any club is being taken advantage of when it becomes the symbol of a sportswashing operation, others that feed off the same scheme are taking advantage of its resources. That adds credibility to any mission and, ultimately, hastens normalisation.

This is not my way of telling you to lay off Saudi-owned Newcastle United or suggesting that state ownership or state sponsorship is exactly the same as bargaining with states — especially in the wake of the British government inviting Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, to the United Kingdom for a state visit later this year. But it is on the same scale and these are all willing participants.



If the source of Newcastle’s spending makes you uneasy, keep talking about it

And for football clubs across Europe, Saudi presents opportunity. There might be moral inconvenience but, economically, the new world the country is creating is very convenient indeed.

Clubs look after themselves and if the money coming from Saudi gets a player a club doesn’t want — or is prepared to sell provided the fee is sufficiently inflated — off the books, they’ll do it, regardless of any inclusivity campaign they’ve designed themselves.

Chelsea certainly did not balk at the prospect of doing business with the Saudis when it came to selling Kalidou Koulibaly (£17million to Al Hilal) and Edouard Mendy (£16m to Al Ahli). Indeed, there were even claims that it was a strategy cooked up through supposed existing relationships between the Public Investment Fund, the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, and Chelsea’s co-owners Clearlake Capital. They were unsubstantiated but nobody is disputing it was a useful exit strategy for Chelsea to offload two unwanted, high-earning players.

Kalidou Koulibaly (Photo: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

The edge might seem smoother if an ageing pro or two can be trimmed from a club’s squad because of unexpected offers.

At Liverpool, Jordan Henderson has verbally agreed a deal with Saudi club Al Ettifaq while another — Al Ittihad — is preparing a bid for Fabinho.

Liverpool knows exactly what they want for Henderson and, after 12 years service, he will only depart if the club receives the amount of money it is asking for. The same goes for Fabinho, who is four years younger and subject to an offer that potentially will be a lot more lucrative, allowing Jurgen Klopp to accelerate a rebuild of his team.

But there is no question that Liverpool would be squeamish about accepting Saudi cash. In fact, as problematic as Saudi is on a variety of moral levels, the country’s interest in football arrives at a good time for Premier League clubs who will comfortably negotiate with them because there is nowhere else to go.

Barcelona may have been willing to pay £142million, a British record fee, for Philippe Coutinho in 2018 — a deal which allowed Klopp to sign Virgil van Dijk and Allison; signings that inspired a new era of success — but their well-publicised financial issues and on-pitch performance have ended the era where the Camp Nou felt like a destination.

(Photo: Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, Real Madrid’s recruitment drive has veered away from proven talent to emerging ones. Clubs like Liverpool, which operate on real levels of profit and loss, have had fewer landing places for deals that have the potential to create windows for growth.

Coutinho, of course, is now the subject of his own interest from Saudi Arabia, potentially joining the same club as Henderson and manager Steven Gerrard. At Aston Villa, he is considered a surplus, like so many other players who have been attracted, in his case, back to the Premier League on wages that other European leagues cannot compete with.

Similarly, consider the story of Roma’s Matias Vina, who earlier this year accepted a lucrative loan offer from Bournemouth, whose stadium holds less than 12,000, when he could have joined AC Milan, the seven-time European champions.

There are many others like Coutinho who are trapped by the size of their own contracts. It gets forgotten, but Ruben Neves was Porto’s captain as a teenager and considered one of the most exciting midfielders in Europe when he joined Wolverhampton Wanderers, then in the Championship, six years ago. This deal was only possible because of the wealth of the club’s owners and its links with influential Portuguese agents. Neves was a brilliant player for Wolves but was his progress slowed by playing for a team at a lower level than he was capable of performing at, thus reducing his options in the future?

None of the biggest European clubs ever subsequently felt compelled to get him out of his contract at Molineux and in June, aged 26, he became the first footballer in his prime to be swayed by Saudi Arabian resources, joining Al Hilal for €55million (£47m).

Ruben Neves (Photo: Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

The money helped Wolves claw its way towards a safer position in the waters of Financial Fair Play. It will be fascinating to see where the same rules lead Newcastle given the club’s obvious connections with Saudi.

There is, apparently, a determination by PIF to follow FFP and therefore avoid the scope of criticism experienced by Manchester City. For that to happen, Newcastle’s books will need to balance but lucrative next steps for talents like Alain Saint-Maximin are not exactly obvious at the moment.

Saudi, of course, could provide an easy answer but if that happens, it will be hard to believe in any “fair market value” claim by Newcastle, as it was after the club recently clinched a shirt sponsorship deal with a Saudi company, when a source from another country, ultimately, did not come up with the cash.

(Photo: Al-Ahli Saudi FC/ Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)