SO much for the Premier League being close to making a decision on Amanda Staveley’s proposed Saudi Arabia-backed takeover of Newcastle United then. Sixteen weeks after starting their owners and directors’ test, it is becoming increasingly clear that the governing body have not even been able to ascertain who the owners and directors are going to be. No wonder progress has been so painfully non-existent.

By demanding greater clarity in a number of key areas, the Premier League have effectively put the ball firmly back into the court of Staveley and her Saudi associates. If they are unable to adequately answer the questions that are being asked of them, there is now a very real chance the entire takeover deal will collapse.

The chief sticking point appears to relate to who will wield the ultimate power if Staveley’s consortium assumes control at St James’ Park. Under the terms of the deal that has been presented to the Premier League, Newcastle will be 80 per cent owned by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), the mechanism by which the Gulf state invests its funds overseas.

In theory, the PIF is an independent body to the Saudi Government, with its own executive structure, employees and corporate identity. In reality, however, the fact that the PIF’s chairman is Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the head of the Saudi state, suggests at least the potential for a fair degree of overlap between the two bodies.

The Premier League want a clear explanation of where the dividing lines lie, and are understood to be seeking guarantees that the Saudi rulers will not be the de facto owners of Newcastle, no matter what names actually feature on the paperwork submitted by Staveley and her team.

That matters, partly because a direct link to Bin Salman would render issues of human rights abuses and allegations of extra-judicial killings far more pressing, and partly because the direct involvement of figures at the very top of the Saudi state would make it far harder for the Premier League to rubber-stamp a deal given the ongoing row over broadcasting piracy.

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The recent WTO report into television rights piracy within Saudi Arabia would not be so damaging if Staveley’s team were able to create a clear divide between their partners in the PIF and the Saudi regime. If, however, they are effectively one and the same, it is much harder for the Premier League to ignore the concerns raised by both the WTO and beIN Sports, their Middle-Eastern broadcast partner, especially in light of the latest developments which effectively saw the Saudi state take beIN off the air in one of their most important markets.

As things stand, the Premier League are clearly unwilling to wave things through, hence the last four months of silence. They are unlikely to formally reject Staveley’s proposal while some of their concerns remain unanswered, but ratification feels a long way off given the stories that have been emerging in the last few days.

So, what happens next? It is possible that Staveley’s consortium are able to provide the assurances the Premier League are demanding, although the fact they have not yet done so is worrying. After four months of stasis, the signs are not good, but the noises emanating from sources close to Staveley’s group remain positive. They continue to believe there is nothing within their proposed ownership structure that would break any Premier League rules, which means some sort of legal action further down the line cannot be ruled out.

Their period of exclusivity has lapsed though, which means other actors could now enter the fray. Henry Mauriss, the American head of Clear TV Media, is known to have opened up a channel of dialogue with Ashley, and is reportedly ready to pay £350m to buy out the Sports Direct boss. That in itself is puzzling given that Staveley’s group have already agreed a price of £300m, but multiple sources have described Mauriss’ interest as “credible” and there is now a window of opportunity for him to act. There have also been suggestions of another US-based group considering an offer, but their interest is understood to be at a much more tentative stage.

Then, of course, there is one other scenario – a continuation of the status quo. Newcastle supporters will be horrified at the prospect of the Ashley era stretching well into next season, but Steve Bruce is clearly preparing for ‘business as usual’, with tomorrow’s meeting with Ashley expected to enable the Magpies manager to press ahead with his plans for summer rebuilding.

Bruce has to plan as if nothing is going to change; increasingly, that looks like being the likeliest outcome all round.