Mike Ashley has put Newcastle United up for sale, bowing to pressure from many fans who had demanded greater investment in the Premier League club.
The company the Sports Direct tycoon set up to take control 10 years ago, St James Holdings (SJH), said the decision was taken to give the team a greater opportunity of achieving its dreams.
It wanted a new owner in place by Christmas – ahead of the January transfer window.
SJH’s statement said the buyer would also be given help to invest in the side in the short term, should they need it, through the option of “deferring substantial payments”.
Mr Ashley, who has faced protests from fans over the level of investment in the side since he took over, has long argued that funds were limited because his cash is tied up in shares of Sports Direct.
The colourful tycoon, who described himself as a power drinker during a court case this summer, has a majority shareholding of 55% in the FTSE 250 retailer, making him a billionaire – on paper at least.
Image: Newcastle fans protested against Mike Ashley before Sunday’s game
St James Holdings released a statement on Monday evening in response to media speculation that expressions of interest were being sought.
It said: “As one of the Premier League’s oldest and best supported football clubs – and for the benefit of its many fans and supporters in the UK and across the world – 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.
Image: St James’ Park is the home of Newcastle United Football Club
“To give an incoming owner the maximum possible flexibility to make meaningful investment in the club, including in its playing squad, the sale process will give interested parties the opportunity of deferring substantial payments.
“A process will now commence of identifying new ownership for the club that will be capable of delivering the sustained investment in and dedication to the club that is necessary for it to achieve its ambitions.”
The side is currently ninth in the Premier League table on its return to the top flight following a single season in the Championship.
Mr Ashley launched a formal takeover of Newcastle United in 2007 after becoming its biggest shareholder – later de-listing it from the London Stock Exchange.
A previous sale of the club was halted in 2008.