Saudi-backed Newcastle United hosts Qatari-owned Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League on Wednesday in a match that is laced with intrigue.
It hasn’t taken long for Saudi Arabia to have an impact on European soccer after providing the money that has guided Newcastle back among the giants of the sport.
“Initially, nothing like this was in our thoughts, the speed at which it’s happened,” said manager Eddie Howe ahead of the Group F match at St James’ Park. “The only thing in our thoughts was staying in the Premier League initially.
“But the swing of momentum has shifted so powerfully and quickly in a positive direction for us. My only thought is to keep that momentum for as long as we can.”
The Magpies’ return to the Champions League after a 20-year absence this season comes just two years after Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund backed a takeover of the club in 2021.
Newcastle faces a PSG team that is much further down the line in terms of investment from the Middle East and the French champions represent a vision of what might be to come for the Premier League side.
PSG has dominated French soccer since being bought by Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) in 2011 and won nine league titles in that time. It has also signed some of the world’s greatest players in Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi and Neymar.
Despite that, the biggest trophy in European club soccer continues to elude PSG. With Messi and Neymar having departed in the off-season and Mbappe in the final year of his contract, this is being cast as the start of a new era for the club.
PSG hopes Mbappe will still be around to lead that new era after a thawing of relations following a standoff over his deal in the summer. But as things stand, this could be his final chance to lift the Champions League with PSG and remains the team’s talisman.
“Paris have got unbelievable players in the team,” said Newcastle defender Kieran Trippier. “Of course we need to recognize that Mbappe is one of the best players in the world, but they’ve got quality all over the pitch and we can’t be too fixed on them.
“We need to play our way because on our day, we can hurt anyone.”
For all its star power, PSG has endured a difficult start to the season and is fifth in the standings in France.
It won its opening Champions League group game 2-0 against Borussia Dortmund, but coach Luis Enrique warned his team of the danger posed by Newcastle, which drew 0-0 at AC Milan in the previous round of matches.
“They’re very good in possession, they’re very good off the ball as well. They play with a very high press – they’re almost a compete football team,” he said. “All teams can go far in the Champions League. There’s no reason why Newcastle can’t go far either. No one wanted to play them, I guess, also because we saw how good they were last season.
James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson
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