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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Newcastle owner Ashley says takeover deal with Dubai financier is off

But many question if Amanda Staveley’s attempt to buy the club is really on the rocks

Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez has not had a good relationship with Jose Mourinho. Ian MacNicol / Getty Images
Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez has not had a good relationship with Jose Mourinho. Ian MacNicol / Getty Images

The bid to take over Newcastle United football club by Amanda Staveley, the Dubai financier, and her firm PCP Capital Partners appears to have run out of time after current owner Mike Ashley rejected overtures from them.

A source close to Mr Ashley sent a provocative statement to Sky Sports reading: “It is only right to let the fans know that there is no deal on the table – or even under discussion – with Amanda Staveley and PCP. Attempts to reach a deal with Amanda Staveley and PCP have proved exhausting, frustrating and a complete waste of time.”

The club remains up for sale, according to the Newcastle newspaper The Chronicle, but it appears that there will be few alternative bidders wishing to meet Mr Ashley’s asking price.

Ms Staveley had offered to buy the Premier League club for a price under £300 million in one lump sum.

Mr Ashley had signalled he would accept payment in instalments and was said to be seeking between £350m and £400m when he announced his intention to sell in October.

Chris Waugh of The Chronicle wrote that “Ms Staveley’s side insist they only learned of Mr Ashley pulling out of talks via the media, so as far-fetched as this may seem, it cannot be ruled out entirely as a possibility.” This suggests that there may be some gamesmanship going on by Mr Ashley’s side.

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A relegation compensation clause was understood to be a sticking point at one stage in negotiations.

The club remains up for sale, according to the Ashley camp, but it is unclear whether they will attract a great deal of attention. Despite being a club with a huge following, in recent years Newcastle have yo-yo-ed between the Premier League and the Championship.

The appointment of Spaniard Rafa Benitez as manager in 2016 buoyed fans, especially after he remained at the club despite their relegation at the end of the 2015-16, and swiftly returned the Magpies to the top-flight after just one season.

But all the talk around the St James’ Park ground this season has been that the manager needs to have funds released to him so that he can keep the club in the top division. Mr Benitez has expressed concern that ownership talks were hampering his attempts to strengthen his squad in January.

Local feeling is that Mr Ashley, a shrewd billionaire who owns the Sports Direct clothing retail company, is happy to hold on to his stake in the club until he receives a bid that suits his own valuation of Newcastle.

However, the club is currently seen as flirting with relegation, which would mean that Mr Ashley would potentially be holding on to an asset that would have a much-diminished value. This is why some are suggesting that the Staveley bid may still be alive.

George Caulkin, a football writer for The Times, tweeted that "as things stand, Amanda Staveley and PCP haven’t walked away from Newcastle, in spite of the inflammatory Ashley-approved Sky statement. As far as her camp are concerned, she’s still the only game in town. Clearly, today isn’t a positive development in terms of a takeover, whichever side you believe. But I’m not sure it’s definitively over, either. Yet.”

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