CRAIG HOPE: Mike Ashley’s silence speaks volumes as Newcastle fans dare to dream his 13-year reign is over – even though the new owners could be JUST as controversial. Here’s what we know about the £300m deal
- Newcastle are in discussions with Amanda Staveley over the sale of the club
- Read: Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners in advances talks over £300m takeover
- Mike Ashley’s 13-year reign as Newcastle owner may soon be coming to an end
- Here, Sportsmail’s Craig Hope talks us through the state of play at present
Newcastle United are in talks with Amanda Staveley over the sale of the Premier League club.
So is this finally the end of Mike Ashley’s 13-year reign as owner? Supporters certainly hope so.
Here, our North East correspondent CRAIG HOPE talks us through what we know so far…
Amanda Staveley is in talks with Newcastle over a huge takeover of the Premier League club
As of now, Wednesday afternoon, what is the state of play?
We know that Staveley and Newcastle are engaged in talks, that much is evident by the documents filed at Companies House and signed by representatives of both parties. More on those shortly.
Beyond that, however, we are relying on sources from one side of the proposed takeover. They say that a £300million deal has been agreed and a formal announcement of such will follow.
Hence, on Wednesday morning, widespread coverage of a deal being close and Ashley’s time at the club coming to an end.
What are the club and Ashley saying?
Nothing. There has been no denial and that could be significant when considering Ashley was so annoyed he let it be known in January, 2018 that previous talks with Staveley had been a ‘waste of time’.
There is a theory among those who know Ashley that he is allowing all of the legal framework for the takeover to be put in place and following all of the necessary protocol in an attempt to discover if Staveley’s group are now ready and able to buy the club.
Ashley’s side have long since been consistent in saying that, until someone puts down the money, he cannot sell.
We revealed earlier this month that he has a long-standing joke with friends of waking up every morning, walking to the mailbox at the bottom of his drive and discovering no cheque has arrived.
They say he WILL sell IF the asking price is met.
Newcastle owner Mike Ashley has remained silent regarding talk of a St James’ Park takeover
What is the asking price?
Well, sources on one side say £300m has been agreed. Other sources wonder why Ashley would have lowered his initial demands, which were always thought to be in the region of £350m.
It could well be that the coronavirus crisis and uncertainty over Ashley’s external business interests has driven the price down. Sports Direct has always been his primary concern and, if he determines that needs extra financial support, it could accelerate the sale of the club.
Sources connected to Sports Direct told us earlier this month Ashley has recently intimated that he ‘just wants done’ with Newcastle. In an email to staff of his Frasers Group empire and seen by Sportsmail, Ashley said the company is ‘still navigating the effects of this outbreak’.
There has been a suggestion that Staveley’s group are looking to take advantage of the current situation and want to force through a deal in the coming days/weeks.
So who is behind the Staveley-led bid?
British brothers Simon and David Reuben – billionaire property developers with North-East links – are said to be taking a 10 per cent stake (like Staveley) and, crucially, the remaining 80 per cent will be made up by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), which is said to control assets worth £320billion.
Sources close to Staveley maintain that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is committed to the deal and that his backing has made this fresh takeover attempt possible. They say Ashley is aware of the funds being in place.
There has, however, been no confirmation of Saudi involvement from their end.
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is committed to the deal
Does the involvement of Saudi sovereign wealth cause concern given the country’s human rights record?
Absolutely. Amnesty International say that Saudi Arabia acquiring a Premier League football club – Bin Salman has been linked with Manchester United in recent months – is simply a case of ‘sports-washing’.
But, for now, that feels like a question for another day. First we need to establish if, how and when this proposed takeover is going to happen.
What are the Premier League saying?
Sources at the league are confirming that some documents have been filed – which is encouraging – but it is not known how significant they are. Remember, previous groups in talks with Ashley have leaked documents filed to the Premier League and nothing has then materialised.
The Premier League are not commenting on whether the owners and directors test has begun, although they have not denied it either. Again, read into that what you will.
So what are the documents filed with Companies House and made public on Tuesday?
They detail a ‘charge agreement’ between St James Holding Limited (Ashley) and Staveley’s company PCP Capital Partners.
This was initially interpreted as a loan from Ashley to Staveley to the value of £150m, as that figure is quoted in the papers. The assumption was this would be the balance of scheduled payments over a period of time as part of the transaction, i.e. X amount up front with £150m to follow.
That, we are told, is not the case. The £150m is instead a representation of PCP’s long-running High Court case against Barclays Bank that is due to be heard in June. Staveley is suing them for £1.5billion.
The exact reason for its mention is not known, and nor is the nature/value of the ‘vendor loan agreement’ between Ashley and Staveley. The latter could be a means of Ashley transferring the money owed to him by the club (last count £111m) to Staveley and her group would then clear that as part of the deal.
Meanwhile, we understand that PCP have previously been offered a £150m out-of-court settlement by Barclays. It is not known if the £150m referred to in the documents is a reference to that figure.
Ashley’s 13-year reign as owner of the Premier League outfit could soon be coming to an end
So this does not mean Staveley is borrowing money from Ashley to buy the club?
That remains unclear, but sources on one side insist not and say the deal would be debt free. Given the reported Saudi backing, you would assume the consortium would have the capacity to fund the deal in full without the need for deferred payments.
How close are we, then, to a takeover going through?
Remember, there were reports in January of a takeover being days away and that did not happen. But there is renewed confidence on one side of an imminent announcement confirming the £300m agreement and, if so, Premier League checks would be the last obstacle.
In January, sources close to Ashley told us: ‘If they want it, come and buy it’. Perhaps Staveley and her group have now made the necessary commitment and we are approaching the end game of this long-running saga.
Interestingly, there has been no such soundings from Ashley’s side this time – maybe it is that the money is finally in place and a deal is ready to proceed. Everyone on Tyneside is certainly hoping that is the case. We’ll have to wait and see.
Long-suffering Newcastle supporters have been desperate to see the back of Ashley for years
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