Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley has officially put the club up for sale and wants a deal to be done by Christmas.
It has been known since the summer that the sports retail tycoon wants to end his 10-year association with the Magpies but, after a series of ploys failed to yield any serious interest – including a leaked story of potential Chinese investment – he has taken the step of releasing a statement confirming his intentions.
In a bid to speed up the process, Ashley has offered any potential buyers the chance to defer payments, although the asking price remains in the region of £400million.
However, his ‘buy now, pay later’ concession has revealed just how desperate the 53-year-old is to get rid after a troubled decade on Tyneside.
In June, it was reported that Chinese investors wanted to buy the club. Sportsmail has since learned that was a tactic to flush out real interest.
That, though, has not been forthcoming and, while the appearance of financier Amanda Staveley at St James’ Park a fortnight ago led to much speculation, the club has heard nothing from her since.
In the meantime, court papers have revealed how HMRC raided St James’ Park in April because they feared evidence of ‘systematic abuse of the tax system’ would be destroyed had the club been forewarned. That investigation is ongoing.
Ashley, though, will use the presence of manager Rafa Benitez to tempt would-be suitors. The Spaniard angered the owner during the transfer window when he repeatedly claimed that he had been misled over investment in the playing squad.
Ashley would have sacked previous managers for such public outbursts but, given his desire to sell the club, he has always been very conscious of Benitez’s global appeal. The boss will be hoping that new owners do emerge before his own relationship with Ashley deteriorates further.
Shearer welcomes the news
Newcastle United legend Alan Shearer was one of the first to react to news that Mike Ashley had put the club up for sale, and appeared ecstatic.
The BBC pundit posted a tweet with a scene of jubilation from the American comedy series Seinfeld.
Shearer worked under Ashley when appointed boss in 2009, and left following relegation when talks over a possible new deal to lead the side in the Championship broke down.
On the field, Benitez has the team looking like a solid top-flight outfit after last season’s promotion and Sunday’s 2-2 draw at Southampton has left them ninth in the table.
Given that the stadium is sold out at 52,000 every week and it is a one-club city with a worldwide reputation, investors should be queuing up, especially with the new Premier League television deal worth around £100m each year.
It is thought that four parties have already signed non-disclosure agreements but Ashley’s latest move would suggest that none of those are likely buyers and he may have to reluctantly lower his asking price.
Ashley’s lawyer, Andrew Henderson, said: ‘Our intentions at the moment are to see if the club can be brought forward into new ownership by potentially Christmas.
‘Assuming that an appropriate person can be found to take the club forward, on exactly how payments are structured, how much would be payable day one, how much might be payable further down the line, there is a real genuine desire from our point of view to make sure that the club is put in the best possible position going forward.
‘So if that means us helping with additional funds being available in the short term, we would seek to accommodate that.’
Meanwhile, a club statement read: ‘As one of the Premier League’s oldest and best supported football clubs – and for the benefit of its many fans and supporters in the UK and across the world – Newcastle United requires a clear direction and a path to a bright and successful future.
‘To give the club the best possible opportunity of securing the positioning and investment necessary to take it to the next level, at what is an important time in its history, its present ownership has determined that it is in the best interests of Newcastle United and its fans for the club to be put up for sale.
‘To give an incoming owner the maximum possible flexibility to make meaningful investment in the club, including in its playing squad, the sale process will give interested parties the opportunity of deferring substantial payments.
‘A process will now commence of identifying new ownership for the club that will be capable of delivering the sustained investment in and dedication to the club that is necessary for it to achieve its ambitions.’
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