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Opinion

As silence continues the need to free up cash could push Mike Ashley to at last sell Newcastle United

5 months ago
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The silence from Mike Ashley is now deafening.

Newcastle fans split into two camps pretty much.

Those hoping that the silence equals boxes getting ticked behind the scenes with Mike Ashley now willing to sell.

Whilst the other side of the argument sees supporters thinking same old Ashley, the silence part of his playing games and this current scenario to be played out like all the other shallow past claims of ‘trying’ to sell the club, which ended up fading away and the vague claims of mysterious ‘other serious bidders’ never even questioned after the fact.

By pure chance/coincidence, I wrote an article 12 days ago explaining how I thought Newcastle United COULD be in line to be sold, not that it WOULD be.

Only three days later The Sun put out their Sheikh in process of buying Newcastle United story.

Looking back at what I wrote and what has happened/being reported since, I think there is room for optimism.

Although having said that, with Mike Ashley I believe anything (bad) is possible and you could even have a sale of the club all set up, then for no logical reason he could even pull the plug at the last moment.

Part of what I wrote on 23 May 2019:

As early as 9 March Newcastle were realistically safe (the win over Everton put Newcastle on 34 points) which would allow Mike Ashley to then put out the message very early to potential buyers for a summer sale.

The timing. For a club that has been constantly fighting relegation, claims of a possible sale during a relegation battle these past two seasons have not run true. A sale in the summer is surely the only logical time for a likely successful deal.

Mike Ashley has (quite legally) manipulated the last two set of accounts, making the wage bill look as bad as possible in the 2016/17 relegation season, by including future wages for players that weren’t/aren’t wanted at NUFC. This making the 2017/18 wage bill far smaller, a 52% wages to turnover ratio making it look very attractive to a potential investor.

Another important factor for a buyer would be the length of contracts still outstanding, having a host of high paid but unwanted players stuck at the club would be seen as a massive liability. However, Newcastle United are exactly the opposite, with almost the entire squad having only one or two years left on their deals.

Then we come to the spark that set the idea in my head, the meeting between Rafa Benitez and Mike Ashley on Thursday 16 May. Absolutely no updates regarding progress on a contract BUT just as (if not more) importantly for me, was/is the fact that despite apparently nothing happening with a contract extension, there have been zero signs of any PR campaign from either side.

I think what has always been clear, is that Mike Ashley would only sell Newcastle United when other factors in his business empire would be pressing him to do so.

In other words, when he could get a high price for NUFC and has other things he needs the extra cash to spend it on.

Since I wrote the above, Sports Direct have sold their Shirebrook headquarters for £120m and agreed to rent it back for the next 15 years. Clearly Mike Ashley feeling the need/want to free up large amounts of money for himself/SD to utilise.

Add in £350m from a potential Newcastle United sale and we are talking around half a billion pounds suddenly being freed up. In his game of real life business Monopoly, that is a canny kitty of cash to then invest elsewhere.

There have been small signs of Rafa Benitez beginning to get agitated about the situation at St James Park in interviews in recent days in Madrid. However, with the manager choosing not to go all out in attacking Mike Ashley about the apparent ongoing uncertainty on many levels at the club, I see this more as Rafa wanting to see things hurried along with the potential takeover, rather than him being completely kept out of the loop.

To have him saying so little if indeed he had no idea of any takeover likely to happen and at the same time still nothing progressed with a new contract, fair to say that wouldn’t ring true. Rafa Benitez would be kicking off for sure by now.

It is all guesswork because only Mike Ashley (and his closest associates) and the potential buyer(s) know for sure what is/isn’t happening.

However, when you have watched the Ashley circus for these past 12 years (and counting…), this does feel different.

The difference for me is that I think he does want to sell now, rather than playing along with the idea and hoping somebody will offer massively more than is realistic.

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