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Nigerians want clarity over Newcastle management

A group of Nigerian tycoons hoping to buy Newcastle United want to be sure they can put in place the management they want before they will consider raising their bid.

LAGOS // A group of Nigerian tycoons hoping to buy Newcastle United want to be sure they can put in place the management they want before they will consider raising their bid, a source close to the negotiations said on today. The Nigerian consortium presented a bid for the Premier League club last Friday but the club's current owner Mike Ashley is believed to be holding out for a higher offer, according to a source who asked to remain anonymous.

"Newcastle want more money but the Nigerians are researching possible management structures and not offering more until they know they can get the management they want," the source said. Ashley put Newcastle up for sale last month, having fallen foul of the fans after the club's former manager Kevin Keegan, hugely popular on Tyneside, resigned saying he did not have full control over the buying and selling of players.

Chris Nathaniel, the London-based businessman co-ordinating the Nigerian offer, said in an interview last week that the Nigerian group could ask Keegan to return as manager if their bid succeeded. The source said the Nigerian consortium wanted to hold talks with officials from the Nigerian Football Federation and the Nigeria Football League about how a successful bid might help develop the game in Africa's most populous nation.

Businessmen in Nigeria say owning a Premier League club could bring large-scale marketing opportunities both in Africa, where English sides have a huge fan base often largely overlooked by their management teams, and globally. The two most widely-supported clubs in Nigeria ? Manchester United and Arsenal ? each have a fan base estimated at more than 15 million people in the former British colony alone.

Some of Nigeria's biggest companies - particularly in the banking and telecoms sectors - are expanding across Africa, spreading into Britain and have ambitions to go global. "They're thinking about the global visibility of the Premiership. For the real big companies, one of the best ways to communicate is through the Premiership," said one Lagos-based businessman. The source said that should the Newcastle bid fail, the Nigerian consortium would likely look at other opportunities to buy a Premier League club.

Ashley completed his 134 million (Dh877m) takeover of Newcastle in July, 2007, but his relationship with the fans has deteriorated rapidly since Keegan's sudden exit on Sept 4, just eight months after he returned for a second spell as manager. The financial details of the Nigerian bid have not been disclosed but Nigerian media reports have estimated it at 350 million pounds and said the consortium wanted to find an additional 100-150 million to secure the deal.

Media reports say a group of South African businessmen based in Britain, as well as potential bidders in the United States and China, have also expressed interest in buying the club. *Reuters

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