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 By PA Sport

Newcastle United put up for sale by owner Mike Ashley

Newcastle owner Mike Ashley has formally put the Premier League club up for sale and is hoping to complete a deal by Christmas.

Ashley's decade-long reign appears to entering its final weeks, with the businessman prepared to entertain a deal involving staggered payments if it attracts the right investor.

A statement from his company, St James' Holdings, read: "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."

The 53-year-old paid £134 million for the Magpies in 2007, clearing existing debts and securing the club's financial future at a troubling time.

But his tenure has not been harmonious, including two relegations from the Premier League and frequent discord with the fan-base.

The statement suggested the developments have been made public due to growing "press speculation," which ramped up after the appearance of financier Amanda Staveley at Newcastle's game against Liverpool earlier this month.

"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," it read.

"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."

Andrew Henderson, a partner at law firm Dentons, is representing Ashley and told Sky Sports News HQ: "Our intentions at the moment are to see if the club can be brought forward into new ownership by, potentially, Christmas.

"That would allow for a period for serious interested parties to put themselves forward, for a diligence process to carry on, and then hopefully by Christmas for a sale to conclude."

Henderson also underlined the flexible approach they are hoping to bring to any negotiations.

"Assuming an appropriate person can be found to take the club forward, on exactly how payments are structured -- how much would be payable on day one, how much would be payable down the line -- there's a real, genuine desire from our point of view to put the club in the best position going forward," he added.

"If that means us helping out with additional funds in the short term, we would seek to accommodate that."

The announcement was met with joy by three of Newcastle's favourite sons, with Alan Shearer and Rob Lee both tweeting gifs showing exuberant celebrations, and Faustino Asprilla posting a video of himself dancing accompanied by the message: "The best news for @NUFC ever. It would be hard to find a worse owner than Mike Ashley for a team."

Shearer's post, showing the cast of "Seinfeld" dancing, was accompanied by the phrase "Just heard.....", while Lee's was captioned "at last."

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