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By ESPN Staff
Jul 4, 2008

Newcastle dismiss reports of £420m sale

Newcastle today dismissed as 'absolute nonsense' claims that owner Mike Ashley is prepared to sell the club for £420million.

The Magpies found themselves surrounded by fresh intrigue off the pitch at the end of yet another eventful week when it was reported that Ashley had quoted American private equity fund InterMedia Partners a price to buy him out.

Although it is understood there has been contact on an informal level between the two parties, the club was swift to deny that a valuation which would trigger a sale had been set.

A spokesman said: 'It is absolute nonsense.'

The club's response may come as some comfort to fans who will have been dismayed to read speculation that Ashley could be looking to sell after just 12 months at the helm when they are hoping for stability both on and off the pitch.

The billionaire businessman launched his £134.4million takeover last summer after former chairman Freddy Shepherd had fought off a series of approaches, with US hedge fund Polygon and the Jersey-based Belgravia Group having declared their interest.

Ashley's move, however, was decisive, and once he had snapped up the Hall family's holding in the club, it was only a matter of time before he gained control.

He, through Chris Mort, the man he eventually installed as Shepherd's replacement, signalled his intention to build for lasting success by restructuring the club and taking a long-term view about its development.

However, despite repeated assurances that Ashley is not looking to make a quick profit and then get out, rumours have persisted that the club is for sale at the right price.

The new owner has invested heavily - to the tune of around £100million - to address the debt situation and help strengthen the playing staff, and is currently, along with Mort's replacement, managing director Derek Llambias, overseeing the recruitment drive manager Kevin Keegan hopes will allow him to compete on the field next season.

But with the Sports Direct International business with which he made his fortune enduring testing times, the speculation is refusing to go away.

Ashley, of course, is a hugely successful businessman and it would not be in keeping with his reputation if he was not abreast of potential opportunities.

The story emerged at the end of a week which saw midfielder Joey Barton handed a four-month suspended sentence after admitting assaulting former Manchester City team-mate Ousmane Dabo and manager Kevin Keegan make his first summer signing, Argentina winger Jonas Gutierrez.

In the best traditions of a club which is rarely far from the headlines, they have found themselves at the centre of a national debate over whether or not they should sack Barton, while Real Mallorca revealed they are seeking around £12million in compensation from Jonas after he unilaterally terminated his contract with them.

In the meantime, Keegan will hope for further movement on the transfer front with his players due back for pre-season training next Monday.

Newcastle are being linked with Udinese's Switzerland international midfielder Gokhan Ilner, while they are also understood to have made checks on Rosenborg's Norway international playmaker Per Ciljan Skjelbred.

The promising 21-year-old is interesting a series of potential buyers, although his advisor Andreas Ekker insists there has as yet been no contact with the Tyneside club.

Ekker said: 'All the clubs from the big leagues have been watching him.

'So far what I can say is that nobody from Newcastle has come to me. There has been no contact in that way yet.

'He is very ambitious, and if Newcastle came to us with an offer, then we would have to seriously consider it.

'We would look at the total package they would offer us, including how the coach would use him.

'We know there are several clubs interested that have watched him at both club and international level, but nobody has come in with a concrete bid.'

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