Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley is considering four bids in excess of £300 million (Dh1.407bn) for the club as he attempts to push through a sale before January.
The sportswear tycoon revealed on Monday evening that he was in talks with several potential purchasers 14 months after placing Newcastle on the market, and voiced his hope that a deal could be done within weeks.
Press Association reported on Wednesday that at least four interested parties, all of them based overseas, have tabled offers and that talks are continuing amid optimism that Ashley’s timescale could be realistic.
The news emerged amid reports that former Manchester United and Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon is ready to show his hand after spending several weeks attempting to put funding in place, while there have been suggestions that prospective purchasers from the United States, the Middle East and Turkey have made contact.
Ashley revealed in a rare television interview, on Sky News, that ongoing negotiations were “at a more progressed stage than they’ve ever been” and although his comments were greeted with scepticism by fans, who saw Amanda Staveley’s proposed takeover collapse earlier this year, things appear to be developing apace.
Ashley said: “I am hopeful for the Newcastle fans, for the club, for everybody, that I will be able to step aside and we will be able to get an owner in that will please everybody.
“I’d like it to be before the January transfer window ... talks are at a more progressed stage than they’ve ever been.”
Ashley, though, did say that a sale before January was only “possible” and that realistic was “maybe too strong a word”.
It does appear that Ashley is finally close to offloading the club at the third time of asking after a turbulent 11-and-a-half years on Tyneside, which has seen him at odds with large sections of the fan base for much of his time in charge.
Disgruntled supporters have made their feelings abundantly clear over his repeated failure to provide his managers, and in particular present incumbent Rafael Benitez, with the funding to compete in the transfer market, with Ashley having admitted he cannot afford to do so.
That has left the Spaniard’s future in doubt with his current contract due to expire at the end of this season, and supporters will be hoping a swift and successful conclusion to talks could both secure the 58-year-old’s continued presence and provide him with a meaningful budget for players.
Benitez’s frustrations at what he perceives as repeated broken promises about transfer funds have been made very clear.
The Uefa Champions League, Europa League and Primera Liga winning former Valencia, Liverpool and Chelsea manager sees the struggles of the previous two seasons as a direct result of Newcastle’s lack of action in the transfer market.
Hopes were high after Benitez guided the club to 10th place in the Premier League last season that investment would be made during the summer to build on that better than expected finish.
But that failed to materialise as Newcastle made a net profit of around £20m in player trading, despite the club banking an estimated £120m from TV and prize money last season.
Their most expensive signing was attacker Yoshinori Muto from German club Mainz for £9m, while striker Aleksandar Mitrovic was sold to soon-to-be relegation rivals Fulham
Last Saturday, Newcastle saw their three-match winning run come to an abrupt halt when they were beaten 3-0 at home by fellow strugglers West Ham United who, by comparison, spent more than £85m in the summer.
After the match, Benitez said: “You see the players that made the difference, they are top-class players.
“Obviously, it’s a reminder that still we can improve things, and we have to improve things. There are two ways: one is working harder and better, or bringing in players who on their own can make the difference.”
With takeover talk now firmly back on the agenda, it remains to be seen what funds will be made available next month.
In the meantime, Benitez insisted, as he prepared for last night’s Premier League trip to Everton, that it was “business as usual” for the Tyneside club.
He said: “I will say that I hope it will not be a distraction. Why? Because the players, they know that they have to perform, that’s it.
“For us, we have experience of this. We are in the same situation that we were in before. When we say, ‘business as usual’, it’s because we know that it will not change our plans.
“Our plans are to look for the [transfer] targets. Fine. We are looking for the targets, so it depends who is there and who is available.
“But for me, we carry on and thinking that Mike will be there, and we have to choose the right players for us. That’s it.”