The widespread assumption, even in the various media, is that Mike Ashley has previously tried to sell the club, but has failed to do so due to a lack of takers showing genuine interest. This is a myth, perhaps even the biggest one going with regards to his ownership. If you don’t believe us, allow us to refresh your memory and ask yourself how unlikely it is that no deal came off – considering what the club, as well as various interested parties, have openly stated and how many of these statements contradict each other and earlier statements made. Please also consider how much Ashley personally benefits from bleeding Newcastle United dry, and a very clear picture emerges: Mike Ashley has never actually wanted to sell the club, and his ‘putting the club up for sale’ and subsequent ‘taking it off the market’ was just a ploy to take the heat off him after the relegation season. A ploy that has worked fantastically well for him too, as it helped appease the fans in anticipation of takeover developments that never came.
The first concrete mention of a takeover came one year after Ashley had bought Newcastle United from the Halls and Shepherd, and came from Mike Ashley himself, even before Keegangate (8 August 2008):
“Newcastle United could well get several approaches every month about buying the club.
“They could be serious approaches from serious entities. My stance is simple. Am I looking to sell up? No. Would I like partners in Newcastle United? Of course, that would make sense.
“That makes sense for the club, for me, the fans, for everybody. And let’s be clear about this. I’m not looking to make money personally for selling a stake in the club.”
Source: The Chronicle
In the aftermath of Keegan’s resignation less than a month later, Mike Ashley issued his first and only statement directed at the fans, announcing his decision to put the ‘club up for sale’. Interestingly, the caveats he would rely on later to take it back off the market were already put in place. As was the request to stop protesting and get behind the team, as if these are mutually exclusive (14 September 2008):
“If I can’t sell the club to someone who will give the fans what they want then I shall continue to ensure that Newcastle is run on a business and football model that is sustainable. I care too much about the club merely to abandon it.
“I have the interests of Newcastle United at heart. I have listened to you. You want me out. That is what I am now trying to do but it won’t happen overnight and it may not happen at all if a buyer does not come in.
“You don’t need to demonstrate against me again because I have got the message. Any further action will only have an adverse effect on the team. As fans of Newcastle United you need to spend your energy getting behind, not me, but the players who need your support.”
It took only four months for the discontent to settle down, being replaced by the anticipation of a takeover that never materialised. So just three months later Mike Ashley announced his decision to take the club back off the market #1 (28 December 2008):
“I have withdrawn Newcastle United from the market, and for me 2009 will be the year in which we drive the Club forward together. Even when I haven’t been at games I have remained a keen supporter, kicking and heading every ball and cheering the team on TV and being the first to congratulate Joe whenever there’s a good result.
“When I took the decision to put the Club up for sale in September I made a point of saying two things were very important.
“Firstly, any potential buyer would have to show they had the best interests of Newcastle United at heart and had both the commitment and finance to be worthy custodians of such a fine football club before I would even consider doing a deal.
“And secondly, I gave you my word that as long as I remain owner, this Club would continue to be run responsibly at all levels. I hope you will accept that I have stood by that pledge.”
However, rumours soon emerged that Mike Ashley, Derek Llambias and Dennis Wise made a trip to Dubai to speak to an interested party (a meeting which had been arranged by Newcastle United Vice President Tony Jimenez)], and didn’t even bother showing up for their meeting. These claims were denied by Derek Llambias (February 2009):
“The Dubai story? Dear, oh dear. We were drinking in a bar and that was it – there was no meeting, we weren’t supposed to be in a meeting.”
Source: The Journal
Which makes Tony Jimenez’ public profile as a Huffington Post correspondent a very interesting read indeed:
“His strong relationships within the UAE – built up over the past 22 years – have been responsible for a number of leading Arab investors making significant investments in Europe. As Vice Chairman of Newcastle United Football Club, Tony was instrumental in negotiations to sell the club to the Dubai government. While the deal was not finalised due to the club owner changing his mind, Tony was nonetheless indispensable when it came to introducing potential buyers and leading negotiations.“
Source: The Huffington Post
Wind forward another half a year and the club had just been relegated from the Premier League, which prompted Mike Ashley to expand once more on his desire to sell the club #2 (May 2009):
“It (relegation) has been catastrophic for everybody. I’ve lost my money and I’ve made terrible decisions. Now I want to sell it as soon as I can.”
Source: The Times
In an official Club statement on NUFC.co.uk the club was put up for sale at a price of £100m and interested parties were requested to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org – no joke (9 June 2009):
“The board of Newcastle United can today confirm that the club is for sale at the price of £100million.
“Interested parties should contact Newcastle United at email@example.com (or Keith Harris at Seymour Pierce) for further details. The club will not be making any further comment at the present time.”
Quote: The Guardian
The next day Newcastle United managing director Derek Llambias confirmed Ashley was in talks with ‘three or four interested parties’, but Profitable Group, credited in the press with a firm interest, was not one of them (10 June 2009):
“We know who this Profitable group are because we had some dealings with them last summer regarding some business in the Far East, but there has been no contact since. We have never spoken to the Profitable Group about the sale of Newcastle United since we put the club up for sale. They have claimed they have met Mike and myself to discuss things and they haven’t.
“There are three or four interested parties who we are talking to but these aren’t one of them. Anyone who starts shouting from the rooftops about their intentions should set the alarm bells ringing. Talks with three groups who want to remain anonymous for now are ongoing. They don’t want to be known just yet. That is how we are trying to do business. That is the proper way to do it, not by talking through the media.”
Source: The Journal
A month later, Derek Llambias claimed that at least two parties had met Ashley’s asking price (6 July 2009):
“There have been more than two bids at £100m. We are giving interested parties all the help that they need.”
Not even two weeks later, Profitable Group, through commercial director Steve McMahon, confirmed that they had put in an improved bid (17 July 2009):
“Former Liverpool and England midfielder McMahaon, the commercial director for the Singapore-based Profitable Group, says he wants to give the relegated Toon Army the ‘kiss of life’.
“Newcastle managing director Derek Llambias has previously played down the group’s chances of buying the club for the £100million asking price, but McMahon says they have lodged a ‘realistic offer’.
“‘Our people have been in London all week working with lawyers and attorneys. Make no doubt about it, the money is in place, we are for real.’
“‘We initially made a tentative bid and discussions then took place. We were told to come back and that’s what we’ve done. There has been a formal offer and and we want to get things done and dusted as quickly as possible.'”
Source: Daily Mail
However, another 11 days later, Profitable Group (Steve McMahon) confirmed they had ended their interest claiming not to have received any response from Mike Ashley after their improved bid was made (28 July 2009):
“We have pulled out. How long can you keep hanging on? We have put a bid in and we have had no communication, no response – nothing.
“‘It really is poor form from Newcastle, but if that’s the way they want to run their business, good luck to them.
“‘I just feel sorry for the supporters – they deserve much, much better. They deserve to know what is going on. We wanted to come in and turn the club round because it clearly needs something at the minute.’
“McMahon has also rejected suggestions that the Profitable Group had never provided proof of funds. ‘That is completely inaccurate.’“
Source: Daily Mail
Still, only two days later Derek Llambias claimed a takeover deal was very close and could happen ‘next week’ (30 July 2009):
“‘We are dealing with several people and giving most of our time and attention to the sale.
“‘You must remember that some parties make offers but when it comes to putting up proof of funds they are a long way from sealing a deal.
“‘But I can say we are very close to completing a deal and it could happen next week.'”
Source: Daily Mail
One week later Derek Llambias claimed ‘no comment’ after Barry Moat’s consortium emerged as front runner in the press (6 August 2009):
“We would love to be able to expand further on the sale and managerial position at the club, but we’re very sorry we’re unable to make any further comment at the present time.”
Two weeks later again, Derek Llambias claimed a deal was there or thereabouts (22 August 2009):
“Managing director Derek Llambias was quoted in one newspaper as claiming the deal was “there or thereabouts” on Friday morning but there remains a few significant hurdles to overcome before Moat can finally take control and appoint Alan Shearer as manager.
“Llambias said: ‘We’re in negotiations with Barry and I am hopeful. But like everything you have to get money in the bank and banks and money are very tight at the moment. It’s all about getting money in the bank.’
“A Newcastle spokesman confirmed to The Journal: ‘There will be an update on the situation on Monday.'”
Source: The Journal
Two days later the club issued an official statement confirming Barry Moat’s takeover bid deadline had been extended (24 August 2009):
“Newcastle United Football Club confirms that it has extended its deadline to Barry Moat to table an offer for the Club.The extension has been granted in order to allow Barry Moat and his advisors to conclude funding arrangements with Barclays, current bankers, for the continuation of last season’s £39m facility.This would allow a formal offer to be tabled.”
Source: The Chronicle
Amazingly, a mere three weeks later, Derek Llambias suddenly claimed that no official bid had been made (10 September 2009):
“But Magpies managing director Derek Llambias today said the suggestion an official bid had been lodged was ‘not true’, a stance reinforced by Seymour Pierce, the investment bank charged with finding a buyer for the club by owner Mike Ashley.
“And Ashley’s linkman Jonathon Brill, who works as an intermediary between Seymour Pierce and the retail billionaire, said from the capital today: ‘Discussions are ongoing.'”
Source: The Chronicle
Fast forward another 9 days, and suddenly the next official club statement confirmed that asking price had been matched but negotiations were ongoing (19 September 2009):
“Newcastle United have revealed the £100m asking price for the club has been met – but owner Mike Ashley looks set to stay for now.
“The takeover saga rumbles on today on as the club issued a statement saying: ‘The £100m asking price has been matched, however, we are still in negotiations and all parties involved are at sale and purchase stage.'”
Source: The Chronicle
Ultimately Mike Ashley revealed a month later that Barry Moat’s bid to buy Newcastle United at an agreed price of £80m (as opposed to the earlier asking price of £100m) had failed due to lack of funds (October 2009):
“Barry Moat has been driving me mad for two years. If he wants to buy the club, he’s got a one-off opportunity to come up with the cash — £80m upfront.”
“I have to put £20m a year into the club — I spend more than every other fan put together puts into the club each year. If you can’t pay upfront to buy the club, you can’t afford it.”
Source: The Times
At the end of that month, another official club statement was published claiming that the club was now no longer for sale #2 (27 October 2009):
“A club statement revealed tonight: ‘The Club had been trying to broker a deal with a number of prospective buyers in recent months however none of those deals came to fruition.’
“With regard to the possible sale of the Club to Barry Moat, that particular bid has now fallen through due to the cash price of £80m not being met.
“In confirming the news, Mike Ashley stated that he is totally committed to the future success of Newcastle United and will be focusing on gaining promotion back to the Premier League. Mike will put a further £20m into the Club this week.”
Source: Blog on the Tyne
Astonishingly, the very next day Derek Llambias went on record to claim that the 100m asking price was never matched (despite multiple earlier claims to the contrary) and buttered up to the fans in an attempt to make Ashley’s continued reign sound acceptable (28 October 2009):
“As you know, Mike made it clear after the end of last season that he was trying to sell the club and although there were a number of interested parties, none of them were able to match the £100million asking price.
“As a result, Mike decided that the best course of action, one that would put the welfare of the club at the top of the agenda, would be to remove the club from the market and concentrate solely on the aim that everyone connected with the club passionately desires – promotion straight back to the Premier League.
“His commitment is unwavering and the additional large sums of money he has recently pumped into the club amply demonstrate that.
“I would urge all supporters of this truly great football club to come together, get behind the team and, whatever grievances you may or may not have, put them to one side for the benefit of seeing Newcastle United regain their position in the elite of English football.
“When this stadium is packed and in full voice, there is nowhere quite like it, and if we can stay positive and get right behind Chris and the players, then hopefully we can stay at the top of the Championship and win promotion at the first attempt.
“Mike and myself are here to do our absolute best for Newcastle United and with you on board, we fervently believe we can deliver a successful football club for you to take pride and joy in.”
Not even two months later Derek Llambias once again contradicted his last statement on the matter, claiming the asking price had been met but no one came up with the funds (20 December 2009):
“We did receive several bids that met the £100m asking price but, despite giving all parties involved our full support in their attempts to push the sale through, only two of those parties completed the due diligence process and reached the sale purchase agreement stage.
“Once those documents were in place, the necessary funding required to complete the sale of the club never actually materialised. So while there were bids on the table, when it came to the crunch none of the bidders actually came up with the agreed funds.”
Source: The Guardian
Managing director Derek Llambias unknowingly gives a very credible explanation as to why potential buyers (most likely billionaires themselves) may have been put off by the reaction they got when they contacted the club with an interest to take it over (10 September 2011):
“From time to time we are approached by people claiming to have an interest in buying the club. Our message to them is clear: buy a box for a commitment of five-seasons and then we’ll know you’re serious. No-one’s taken us up on that offer!”
Source: Chronicle Q&A
At a fan forum meeting in May 2014, the board of Newcastle United was asked if the club was for sale if the right offer came in, promoting a reply that the owner (Mike Ashley) is not actively trying to sell the club, thereby inferring that any offer would perhaps be taken in consideration (14 May 2014):
“Document question: Is the club still available for sale if the right offer comes in and have there been any offers or interest shown from any group or individual in the past 12 months?
It was stated that the owner is not actively trying to sell the football club.”
However, in September 2014 a club statement was released to quash the ongoing press speculation that Mike Ashley might want to sell Newcastle United in order to be able to become the owner of Rangers (12 September 2014):
“The truth is Mike Ashley remains committed to Newcastle United,” it said. “For the avoidance of doubt, this means that for the remainder of this season and AT LEAST until the end of next season, Mike Ashley will not, under any circumstances, sell Newcastle United at any price. The club cannot be stronger in stating its position on this matter.”
Source: The Guardian
Considering the turns of events stated above; the multiple and often contradictory statements, the evidence pointing towards the asking prices having been matched by more than one bidder, the lack of response to having been given offers and having meetings set up with prospective buyers only to then be dodged, we no longer believe anything the club come out with.
Quite simply, there is a plenty of proof that it is in fact not a lack of interest which has prevented the sale of the club, but rather a reluctance of Mike Ashley to do so. The fact they have pulled wool over the fans’ eyes in the process is all part of the game, apparently.