Newcastle owner Mike Ashley sparked a flurry of speculation when he let it be known that the club was formally up for sale.
Having seen the sportswear tycoon attempt to offload the business he bought for £134.4million in 2007, some supporters remain sceptical that the Magpies will be in new hands by Ashley’s Christmas target.
Here, Damian Spellman from Press Association Sport takes a look at some of the issues surrounding a potential sale.
Does Ashley really want to sell?
Those closest to Ashley insist that he does, but only to the right buyer and that means someone who can provide the kind of finance he cannot to take the club to the next level. Ashley admitted as the summer transfer window drew to a close that he could not provide manager Rafael Benitez with the funds he wanted to rebuild his squad without additional financial backing and his decision to sell is perhaps further confirmation of that. For that reason, he is open to accepting a structured payment plan to allow any new owner to spread the burden while investing in the team.
How much does he want?
That is the £350million, £380million or £450million question, depending on who you believe. Ashley knows what the club is worth on paper, but is equally aware that value is only relevant if someone is prepared to pay it. Insiders insist the owner has not set an asking price, but will consider offers which satisfy both his business sensibilities and his requirement that the club is placed into the right hands, a claim which may prompt raised eyebrows from his critics.
Is the club attractive to prospective buyers?
The Premier League’s global profile and financial strength remain hugely attractive to buyers, with West Brom and Southampton having attracted Chinese money in the last year or so and Farhad Moshiri having bought a significant shareholding in Everton.
The spending power of the likes of Manchester City and neighbours United, as well as Chelsea, make it difficult to compete at the top end of the table, but closing the gap to the big boys is attainable.
Newcastle’s huge fan-base and not too distant European pedigree makes them an attractive proposition despite a major trophy drought stretching back to 1969.
If Ashley’s reign does draw to a close, how will it be viewed?
Ashley’s decade at the helm may not have brought any meaningful silverware – two Sky Bet Championship titles are creditable achievements, but do not register in that column – but it has sparked plenty of headlines. Two relegations, the club’s treatment of managers Kevin Keegan, Alan Shearer and Chris Hughton, the decision to re-name St James’ Park, the Wonga sponsorship deal and a questionable transfer policy have sparked a simmering feud with fans with a fifth-place finish and one season of European football providing brief respite. The appointment and retention of manager Benitez may prove to be the most significant achievement of his tenure, but his departure would be mourned by few.
Why are fans sceptical?
Past experience. This is the third time the club has been put on the market and it remains in Ashley’s hands. It went up for sale for the first time in September 2008 in the wake of furious protests over Keegan’s departure over transfer dealings with Ashley claiming he could not take his children to matches because of fears for their safety. He took it off the market three months later after failing to find a buyer, but offered it for sale once again in May 2009 in the wake of relegation, only to change his plans five months later.