Newcastle United remain privately sceptical that an offer from Sheikh Khaled bin Zayed Al Nehayan will lead to the sale of the club as Mike Ashley looks to bring an end to his 12-year reign at St James’ Park.
Although there was an initial wave of excitement on Tyneside after the Bin Zyayed Group released a statement confirming they had “agreed terms” the optimism was gradually replaced with familiar misgivings. This will be the fifth time in 11 years that Newcastle have supposedly been on the verge of being sold by Ashley, but on each occasion the talks have collapsed and there are growing fears this will follow suit.
Telegraph Sport understands that although a price has been agreed with the Al Nehayan, the United Arab Emirates based businessman is yet to provide proof of funds with sources indicating there is a long way to go before a deal is concluded.
Manager Rafa Benítez has also been told it is business as usual as no takeover is imminent. Other interested parties are also adamant claims Newcastle are on the verge being sold to Al Nehayan are completely false. It is also understood that a report stating that papers have been submitted to the Premier League to ratify the takeover are also inaccurate.
The statement said: “We can confirm the representatives of his Highness Sheikh Khaled Bin Zayed Al Nahyan are in discussions with Mike Ashley and his team about the proposed acquisition of Newcastle United Football Club.
“We view it as an honour to have the opportunity to build on the strong support, history and tradition of the club.
“We have agreed terms and are working hard to complete the transaction at the earliest opportunity.
“Best Regards, Midhat Kidwai, Group Managing Director, Bin Zayed Group."
According to reports in the Middle East, Sheikh Khaled bin Zayed Al Nehayan who is a distant relative of Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour has also promised to keep manager Rafa Benítez and provide money to improve the squad in this summer’s transfer window.
However, sources closer to St James’ Park insist nothing has been finalised and privately, senior figures, including managing director Lee Charnley and manager Benítez, were as surprised as anyone to learn the club was on the verge of being sold on Sunday night and have been trying to seek clarification from Ashley before they make any official comment.
That will inevitably raise fears that this is just another false dawn, with all the claims and counter claims reminiscent of so many previous unsuccessful takeover attempts at St James’ Park.
Ashley has tried and failed to sell Newcastle several times since he bought it for around £140m from former owners Sir John Hall and Freddie Shepherd in 2007. Some have even questioned whether he has ever been serious about selling given his inability to find a buyer.
“The first aborted attempt came in 2008, shortly after Kevin Keegan had resigned as manager in protest at boardroom interference in recruitment.
Ashley also put the club on the market for just £100m in the summer of 2009, following relegation to the Championship. On both occasions, there were strong reports a sale was close to being agreed, only for the talks to collapse and Ashley to remain at the helm.
The club was put up for sale again two years ago and once more deals were supposedly in place for him to sell. Financer Amanda Staveley claimed she was close to completing a takeover in December 2017 only for Ashley to dismiss her attempt as a “complete waste of time” a few weeks later.
More recently, former Manchester United and Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon announced he was trying to buy the club, but although he was given access to the date room for due diligence before Christmas, a bid never materialised.
Al Nehayan has previously failed in a bid to buy Liverpool, with the Merseyside club pulling out of talks in August last year when he was unable to provide proof of funds or pay a £25m deposit.
Crucially, this time, the Sheikh is not the only interested party who has been locked in negotiations with Ashley, which increases the chances of a successful takeover taking place.
Telegraph Sport has been aware of talks taking place under strict rules of secrecy for some time. Interestingly, Ashley insisted he would walk away from any deal if details were leaked before an agreement was in place, as he was tired of people using the club to boost their profile.
Indeed, sources close to those talks have reacted with scepticism to claims Al Nehayan has beat them to it, with two well-placed figures dismissing claims Ashley has sold the club as “bulls---t” and “complete b-------.”
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