Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 25 October 2014

Ashley not seeking to sell up

Owner Mike Ashley, left, continues to irk Newcastle fans

Mike Ashley is not actively looking to sell Newcastle.

The sportswear tycoon's critics were boosted on Wednesday by a report claiming the club is on the market once again.

However, Press Association Sport understands that while any prospective buyer could open the door to a deal by tabling a suitable offer, Ashley is not attempting to offload the business he bought six years ago as a matter of urgency. Indeed, that has been the situation since the day he completed a £134.4million takeover during the summer of 2007.

Above all else, Ashley is a businessman and the chance to make a profit on a club in which he has since invested in excess of a further £130million is one which would prove difficult to resist. However, the fact remains that there are no offers on the table and none in the pipeline.

Ashley has, of course, twice tried to sell Newcastle - once in the wake of Kevin Keegan's departure from his second spell as manager, and then again following relegation from the Barclays Premier League at the end of the 2008-09 season with fans in open revolt on both occasions.

However, at neither point did any party come remotely close to clinching a deal despite fevered speculation, with even an ill-fated mission to the cash-rich Middle East failing to smoke out a buyer.

Having taken the club off the market for the second time in October 2009 with then manager Chris Hughton and his players engaged in what would prove to be a successful battle to drag it back into the top flight at the first attempt, Ashley drew a line in the sand and set about the task of rebuilding it.

The watchword for he and managing director Derek Llambias was "stability", and although the going has been far from smooth - the decisions to rename St James' Park as the Sports Direct Arena and to strike a sponsorship deal with payday loans company Wonga were particularly badly received - the trend was largely upward until last season.

Newcastle finished fifth and won a return to European football at the end of the 2001-12 campaign, but struggled over the line in 16th place 12 months later with manager Alan Pardew baring the brunt of supporter frustration, but Ashley and Llambias finding themselves in the firing line too over their distinctly limited involvement in the transfer window.

However, a new pantomime villain strode on to the stage when Joe Kinnear was handed the role of director of football, prompting Llambias' exit. Several hundred supporters attended a meeting on Monday at which a motion was passed calling on Ashley to get out. But until such time as a sizeable cheque is sitting in the billionaire's bank account, he will continue.

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