Tyneside holds its breath as Mike Ashley's unpopular reign at Newcastle United nears the end

After a catastrophic 13-year ownership, the British businessman looks set to sell the club to a Saudi-backed consortium

Mike Ashley's controversial reign as owner of Newcastle United appears to be nearing the end, with a deal to a Saudi Arabia-backed consortium close to being approved.

The prospective new owners are headed by financier Amanda Staveley but the majority of the money – thought to be in the region of £300 million (Dh1.36 billion) –  will come from Saudi’s Public Investment Fund (PIF).

PIF is expected to take on an 80 per cent stake in the club Premier League club, while Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners and UK-based property tycoons the Reuben Brothers will acquire 10 per cent each.

The Premier League has been informed of the potential deal and are understood to have begun the process of carrying out checks under its owners and directors test.

Documents had been lodged on April 9 with Companies House in the UK showing a charge that permits Ashley to lend £150m to PCP Capital Partners.

Ashley bought Newcastle for £133m in 2007 and has been trying to sell the club on and off throughout his turbulent reign.

That a deal now appears within touching distance will be music to the ears of a fanbase desperate for the club to show some ambition and start challenging for trophies again.

To put it mildly, he will not be missed by Newcastle fans so starved of success.

Back in 2007, Ashley's purchase was met with approval on Tyneside. A self-made, extremely wealthy British businessman, Ashley spoke enthusiastically about his aims for the club.

"I want a team that will go all out to give Chelsea a walloping, that'll try to stuff Tottenham and that will be brave and bold enough to attack Man United," he said at the time.

"This is a football club remember, it's about dreams, about glory. If it's not, then why bother?"

Former manager Kevin Keegan, who had nearly guided Newcastle to the title during his first spell in charge in the 1990s, was brought back to the delight of fans.

The honeymoon period did not last long and Ashley's first full season as owner was a catastrophe that would see four different managers occupy the dugout.

Keegan had walked out, blaming boardroom interference and the fact a player was signed as a favour to a scout, rather for his football ability. He would later be awarded £2m in damages by the club.

Joe Kinnear was given the caretaker manager's role despite not having managed a top-flight club since 1999. He left within months due to health problems.

Record goalscorer Alan Shearer was then asked to save the club from relegation with just eight games left but could not save a sinking ship. Much to his frustration, Shearer was not given the chance to rebuild the team and the owner would never explain his decision.

Ashley would then put the club up for sale after Newcastle were relegated for the first time in 16 years. “I’ve lost my money and I’ve made terrible decisions," he said. "Now I want to sell it as soon as I can.”

It would set the tone for the Ashley era: make a bad call, team suffers, fans up in arms, club put up for sale. And if there was one thing that Ashley has been consistent with, it is making bad calls. The list is long and distinguished.

In 2010, Chris Hughton was sacked with the club safely mid-table in the Premier League after he had guided them to the Championship title at the first time of asking.

In 2011, star striker and local hero Andy Carroll was sold to Liverpool and Ashley renamed St James' Park the Sports Direct Arena after the owner's sportswear company, both much to the fury of supporters.

Hughton's replacement, Alan Pardew, was handed a staggering eight-year contract in 2012 – as were coaches John Carver, Steve Stone and Andy Woodman – after guiding the club to a fifth-place finish. Pardew was gone by the end of 2014.

In 2015, former England manager Steve McClaren was appointed manager but did not last until the end of his first season before being sacked and the club relegated again.

In 2016, former midfielder Jonas Gutierrez won a disability discrimination claim against Newcastle after the club stopped selecting him to avoid extending his contract after the Argentine was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

In 2019, hugely popular Spanish manager Rafa Benitez walked out on the club, blaming a lack of ambition from the owner after he had secured promotion at the first time of asking and then guided the team to two mid-table finishes.

Even with the bitter end apparently in sight, the PR disasters continued. Newcastle are one of only two Premier League clubs to take up the UK government's furlough scheme to pay employees during the coronavirus shutdown.

Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Bournemouth have all reversed their decisions due to the public backlash. Ashley, though, appears immune to the criticism.

For Newcastle fans, there have been a number of false dawns, raised hopes and heartbreaks over potential takeovers.

So while this one appears close, until the deal is signed, sealed and approved, the celebrations will be on hold as the whole of Tyneside holds its breath yet again.

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