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Mike Ashley 'still set on selling Newcastle to Saudi-backed consortium'

:Headline: Mike Ashley 'still set on selling Newcastle to Saudi-backed consortium':
Financier Amanda Staveley agreed a deal with the Magpies owner in April last year.
Sports Mole

Newcastle owner Mike Ashley remains focused on selling the club to Amanda Staveley's Saudi-backed consortium almost a year after the £300million-plus deal was struck.

The sportswear magnate is currently pursuing a legal route in his efforts to secure Premier League approval for the proposed takeover, having entered into an arbitration process.

However, the PA news agency understands that Ashley feels the sale has been agreed and simply needs to be rubber-stamped by the governing body.

Amanda Staveley's largely Saudi-backed consortium remain willing buyers (Owen Humphreys/PA)

In the circumstances, speculation that former Roma owner James Pallotta could have an interest in the St James' Park outfit barely caused a ripple on the River Tyne with all eggs confined to the same basket.

American tycoon Pallotta name-checked the Magpies as he discussed the possibility of investing in a Premier League club in an interview, but having seen potential buyers come and go repeatedly during his 14-year tenure, Ashley is concentrating on the one party he knows has the financial backing and, he believes, the will to take Newcastle off his hands.

The sale process is the latest saga to engulf St James' during the Frasers Group mogul's turbulent reign.

Staveley's PCP Capital Partners, backed in large part by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund and the Reuben Brothers, reached an agreement with Ashley in April last year after extensive talks – Staveley had failed in an earlier bid to buy the club – and the proposal was sent to the Premier League for approval.

Newcastle fans have repeatedly called for Ashley to sell the club (Richard Sellers/PA)

The news sparked wild celebrations on Tyneside as frustrated fans contemplated the end of a fractious period in Newcastle's history during which they were relegated from the top flight on two occasions, with the owner unwilling or unable to fund a more ambitious approach.

However, after a 17-week wait for the league's owners' and directors' test to be completed – concerns over the relationship between the prospective buyers an the Saudi state, as well as TV piracy row proved stumbling blocks – the consortium withdrew its offer in July as the commercial agreement between the two parties expired.

A furious Ashley immediately signalled his intention to explore legal arguments in a bid to remove whatever obstacles had blocked the approval, and that process is ongoing.

It is understood that both seller and buyer remain willing to do business, although whether that would remain the case should the Magpies fail to retain their Premier League status, only time will tell.

Steve Bruce's men sit three points clear of the drop zone with eight games remaining following Sunday's 2-2 fightback draw with Tottenham, although they face a challenging run-in with Fulham hot on their heels.

Relegation would drastically reduce both the club's value and attractiveness to buyers, but at the same time, would transfer responsibility for a decision from the Premier League to the English Football League.

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