Newcastle United are celebrating their 125th anniversary this season, but any joyous reflections on the past are being overshadowed by a nervous uncertainty over the future of the club.Amanda Staveley, the City financier and owner of PCP Capital Partners, is understood to have bid £250m – yet a takeover deal with owner Mike Ashley is still to be reached.The landmark anniversary was celebrated with a gala dinner in November, attended by manager Rafa Benitez along with players both past and present.
“When you are a massive city supporting a team and you have a lot of fans supporting the team, this connection between fans, players, club, staff, everyone is really important,” said Benitez.”It is a massive club but we can improve, we have to improve. The best way to do it is all together.”Only the club weren’t all together that night. Ashley was absent. Soon after, the Sports Direct tycoon left for a winter break in Las Vegas.The Nevada city – the gambling capital of the world – was perhaps an apt location for Ashley as he considers using Newcastle as a chip in one of the biggest bets of his business career.He made it clear last year that the club was for sale and he hoped a deal could be concluded within a matter of weeks.
Ashley and Staveley met in London in December, but any heat from that curry house summit has long since gone.And all the while the clock is ticking.Ticking towards the closure of the January transfer window, with Newcastle’s squad in urgent need of reinforcements.Ticking towards the end of the season, with relegation a realistic prospect for a club just three points above the drop zone.Ticking towards the consequences of life back in the EFL Championship and the prospect of a Champions League-winning manager walking away from an impossible job.Watch: Benitez targets January signingsFans can have faith in Benitez – JenasAshley has supported Newcastle financially for many years. The £129m in loans he has given the club are all interest free. His incremental purchase of 100% of Newcastle shares cost a total of around £134m in 2007.That is a £263m investment in all – leaving him £13m out of pocket on a bid of £250m.But Sports Direct, according to some analysts, has received around £20m to £40m in free advertising through its association with the club.Despite that, it would appear Ashley is holding out for a considerably higher offer and is prepared to accept deferred payments if necessary.The gamble will arguably come, though, if Benitez is denied investment in this transfer window and is left to fight for Premier League survival with his current squad.Aston Villa provide a salient example of what awaits if the third relegation of Ashley’s tenure does come to pass in May. Put up for sale with an asking price of £200m in 2014, the club’s American owner Randy Lerner was forced to accept a fee close to £80m in June 2016 following relegation.Ashley and Staveley meet for takeover talksAshley ‘regrets’ involvement in footballNewcastle’s price would be closer to £100m, according to some City estimates, should they drop a division.But the stark difference between Staveley’s on-the-table bid and the benchmark for the sale of a big EFL club shows the scale of the stakes involved.Ashley may be hoping another bidder emerges to challenge Staveley and start a bidding war.While several other parties have signed non-disclosure agreements, no-one has emerged with a rival bid, despite the club being publicly up for sale since October.If Newcastle retain Premier League status, Ashley will have bought himself time in his search for a bid he feels is acceptable.If the club go down? There are serious questions about who will be in charge of team affairs and the level of resource available to haul them back once more to the top flight given how unlikely it would be for a sale at a substantial loss.
So with just over two weeks of the transfer window to go, it is left to Ashley to consider his next move.Staveley may yet increase her bid, but the necessary regulatory clearance will take weeks – long after the January window has closed.Ashley may then be about to go “all in” with his wager – and it will involve more than just money if he does.The late Sir Bobby Robson, a former Newcastle manager, maybe put it best when he said: “What is a club in any case? Not the buildings or the directors or the people who are paid to represent it. It’s not the television contracts, get-out clauses, marketing departments or executive boxes.”It’s the noise, the passion, the feeling of belonging, the pride in your city.”It’s a small boy clambering up stadium steps for the very first time, gripping his father’s hand, gawping at that hallowed stretch of turf beneath him and, without being able to do a thing about it, falling in love.”The £150m in lost valuation through relegation pales in comparison when compared to the dashed hopes, dreams and emotions of those connected to a club.This month will reveal if Mike Ashley’s big gamble, involving more than just money, is really on.
Source: BBC Tyne and Wear