Who on earth would want to buy Newcastle United at the moment? That’s a good question. Here are 10 possible answers.
1. The fans
Before he officially put the club up for sale, Ashley reportedly challenged the Toon Army to raise the money among themselves for a takeover bid. It sounds a good idea in theory, but would be a logistical nightmare in practice. It works for a club like Barcelona where the club has always been run that way, but it would be difficult to implement at St James’ Park. Perhaps a more likely outcome would be for a supporters’ trust to hold a minor shareholding stake in the club with the new owner.
Likelihood: 2/10 – nice idea but it isn’t going to happen
2. Anil Ambani
The Indian tycoon’s Reliance Group has courted Newcastle for months, but now claims to have lost interest (just as well he didn’t takeover and then lose interest, you might say!). The group says that “turbulent conditions” at St James’ Park have put them off and they are now reported to be interested in a takeover at Everton. Behind the scenes though, the rumours are that Ambani is in discreet communication with Ashley about buying him out.
Likelihood: 7/10 – they might be back if they are rebuffed by Everton
3. InterMedia Partners
The New York-based private equity firm claims it was sounded out in the summer by Ashley’s associates about a possible takeover bid. The American group claimed at the time it had no interest in purchasing the club, although Ashley’s eagerness to sell could trigger a cheeky bid.
Likelihood: 4/10 – outsiders, but not strong contenders
4. Freddy Shepherd
Once the most hated man on Tyneside, Shepherd now claims he has been approached by two separate consortiums to take control once again of the club. The move would not be popular with supporters, but he does have a local connection and would probably be viewed more favourably than Ashley.
Likelihood: 8/10 – he doesn’t have enough money, but as part of a consortium could be an option
5. Dubai International Capital
DIC has long been interested in a takeover at Newcastle, but a lack of progress coupled with turmoil at Anfield forced the group to turn their focus to Liverpool. With Ashley now desperate to sell, DIC are once again interested and a meeting has reportedly been set-up between the two parties. DIC is the investment arm of the Dubai Government, which means it has plenty of financial clout.
Likelihood: 9/10 – very strong contenders and the front-runners at this stage
6. Xu Rongmao
Chinese billionaires are relatively thin on the ground, but this construction tycoon is leading a consortium who are interested in a takeover at Newcastle. Not too much is known about Xu, but the Guardian reports that he is very interested in exploiting the valuable land around the stadium for his other commercial enterprises. This may lead the Toon Army to question his motives.
Likelihood: 6/10 – his intentions are not clear enough for him to be a frontrunner
7. Ken Bates
The Santa Claus-alike has made a career out of ‘rescuing’ football clubs in turmoil, so perhaps he would fancy working his magic once again. It is very doubtful – even Bates’ ego will allow him to see that in the current climate he lacks the necessary finances to progress the club.
Likelihood: 1/10 – not unless Ashley wants to give the club to Santa for Christmas
8. The Government
They bailed out Newcastle financially-crippled sponsor, Northern Rock, so why not privatise the whole club? Who needs Mike Ashley and Derek Llambias when you could have Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling?
Likelihood: 0/10 – maybe not
9. Polygon Investment Partners
The US-based hedge fund was interested in a takeover before Ashley took control, but pulled out. It is not clear whether the circumstances are now right for the group to rekindle its interest, but it would certainly be quite a way back in the queue if it did.
Likelihood: 4/10 – missed their chance
10. Mr North-East
Another of the front-runners is a mystery local man. His name has not yet managed to leak to the papers, but it is claimed that he is a north-east businessman with the financial capability to mount a successful takeover bid.
Likelihood: 5/10 – sounds promising, but impossible to say without a name