Ashley confirms Newcastle United is for sale

October 17 – Controversial Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley (pictured) has put the Premier League club up for sale after a decade-long reign in charge of the iconic English team whose 52,000 capacity stadium is close to full most weeks courtesy of a fanatical fan base.

Newcastle have been relegated twice from the top flight during Ashley’s tenure but after winning promotion last season are gaining stability and consolidation under manager Rafael Benitez.

“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,” a club said in a statement.

“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.”

Ashley, who founded British retailing group Sports Direct, has had an awkward relationship with Newcastle fans in terms of how he has run the club and his lawyer Andrew Henderson told the Newcastle Evening Chronicle newspaper that a deal could be concluded before the end of the year.

”Our intentions are to see if the club can be bought by new ownership by potentially Christmas,” he said.

It is not the first time Ashley has put Newcastle up for sale, going down the same route in September 2008. He changed his mind three months later but announced he wanted to sell again after relegation in May 2009 before again ending his attempt to offload the club five months later.

While Ashley was prepared to sell he would not sell the club cheaply and reportedly accepted an offer of £120 million but pulled out when the buyer attempted to negotiate the price down to £100 million. This time round with TV revenue guaranteeing £100 million per season and match day revenues breaking records, he is unlikely to settle for much less than £500 million, though this is still far short of the £1 billion recently offered to Liverpool which was turned down (the main commercial difference between the two clubs is Liverpool’s extensive overseas fan base).

This time, though, Ashley is clearly deadly serious and that will please a majority of fans who are desperate for further investment, blaming Ashley for being too tight with the purse strings and worried about Benitez leaving unless he gets more funds to invest in the squad.

It may not, however, all be plain sailing. Earlier this month Newcastle lost the first legal round of the case brought against them by the UK tax authorities. A court ruled that the dawn raids on the club’s office last April were legally authorised and that there were grounds to suspect the club had “systematically abused” the tax system.

The timing is particularly tricky as Ashley seeks a potential new buyer.

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