Newcastle United have officially confirmed that the Premier League club has been put up for sale, raising the prospect of current owner Mike Ashley ending his reign at St James’s Park that has spanned the last decade.
The 53-year-old bought the club in July 2007 after investing around £134m, saving it from possible financial ruin by paying off substantial debts left by the previous owners.
Ashley’s time in charge has not been without its troubles though, with the club twice relegated to the Championship in both 2008/09 and 2015/16, and fans have long protested against his ownership due to their unhappiness with a perceived lack of investment from the Londoner and string of hire-and-fire managers.
A Newcastle statement, issued on Monday evening, read: “As a result of increasing press speculation regarding the future of Newcastle United, the owner of the club, St. James Holdings Limited, wishes to clarify its intentions.
“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.”
The news, while something of a surprise with the club performing well in the Premier League, is not a complete shock given the appearance of financier Amanda Staveley at Newcastle’s home ground during the draw with Liverpool at the start of the month.
Staveley, "a financier with an estimated £28bn under her new management and reportedly open to buying a Premier League football club", is a former partner of Prince Andrew and began PCP Capital Partners as a small Mayfair financial advisory. More pertinently, her company was involved in the £210m deal that saw Sheikh Mansour take over Manchester City through the Abu Dhabi United Group.
Her involvement in the takeover of City (and a failed one at Liverpool, when Rafa Benitez was manager) meant Tyneside’s metaphorical red carpet was rolled out. “If you see her get the trebles in,” one wrote on Twitter.
That she was in the directors’ box during the 1-1 draw against manager Rafa Benitez’s former club Liverpool further fuelled the flames, as did the fact she walked down past the press box when the game had finished and headed down the tunnel. She was also, it was said, a guest of Benitez.
The devil, as always here, lies in the detail, or rather the lack of it. She spent time with Kenny Dalglish, the former Newcastle and Liverpool manager at the game. Nobody, however, in officialdom at the club knew she was planning to attend. Ashley was not even at the game.
More to follow