Mike Ashley has continued his efforts to leave Newcastle by formally putting the club up for sale.
An official statement on the Magpies’ website reads:
“Newcastle United requires a clear direction and a path to a bright and successful future. To give the club the best possible opportunity of securing the positioning and investment necessary to take it to the next level, at what is an important time in its history, its present ownership has determined that it is in the best interests of Newcastle United and its fans for the club to be put up for sale.”
Ashley first took charge back in 2007 when he bought Sir John Hall’s 41.6% stake and has endured a turbulent reign which has featured two relegations and a deeply unpopular change of stadium name.
Following Steve McClaren’s sacking, Newcastle at least pulled off a coup with the appointment of Rafa Benitez. The former Liverpool boss has never seemed entirely happy, however, and looked to be on the brink of walking away earlier this summer because of lack of investment in the first team following promotion.
There have been rumours of Chinese interest, but it can’t be ruled out that those reports were fed to the media as a precursor to this afternoon’s news.
If Ashley really is on his way out of the north-east, his departure will be met with an understandable mix of relief and elation from the supporters. The board need to be careful what kind of investors they attract, particularly in the midst of Brexit, as it would not seem the opportune time to buy a UK football club.
That said, can it get much worse? Blackburn fans might suggest yes, it can. Venky’s are still in place, while Leyton Orient were brought back from the precipice of liquidation earlier this year thanks entirely to the malice of Francesco Becchetti.
A club of Newcastle’s magnitude should be proofed from that kind of danger, if anyone is truly safe. The reality is that they are going to struggle to ever establish themselves as a regular top-flight team while Ashley remains, and if he is both fortunate and shrewd with who he sells to – if he really does have the club’s best interests at heart – then things can only get better.