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Newcastle boss Howe defends Saudi Arabia training camp

Newcastle manager Eddie Howe on Friday defended the club’s decision to return to Saudi Arabia for a warm-weather training camp, saying it was a “football decision”.

A Saudi-backed consortium bought the club in October last year, with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund — of which Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is chairman — owning an 80 percent stake.

The takeover was rubber-stamped by the Premier League after it received legally binding assurances the Saudi state would not control Newcastle.

But human rights groups raised concerns over the purchase, saying it was an attempt to “sportswash” the Gulf kingdom’s human rights record.

The Magpies, will fly to capital Riyadh from December 4 to 10 after making a similar trip to Jeddah in January.

Asked about the criticism the trip might spark, Howe said: “We’ve made a football decision. We’ve looked at the World Cup break, what’s the best thing for the team.

“The best thing for the team, I believe, is to take the team away like you would in pre-season, away from distractions, a chance to really train the group, enhance the team spirit with hopefully some good weather, so that’s what we’ve done.

“We’ve made it from a purely footballing backdrop.”

Howe’s side will play a friendly against Pro League champions Al-Hilal on December 8 during a trip he hopes will yield similar results to their last visit, after which they won five of their next six matches.

“Going back to our trip last year, the weather was very good, the facilities were first class, we were able to spend some quality time together to bond the group and really focus our energies on our battle to stay in the division,” he said.

“The team spirit off the back of that trip was very, very good. Obviously we have that positive experience to fall back on and it’s helped with our decision this time.”

Newcastle, who travel to face high-flying Tottenham on Sunday, are sixth in the Premier League, just two points behind fourth-placed Chelsea.

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