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Sep, 17, 2008

Dubai firm distance themselves from Toon interest

The Dubai Investment Group have distanced themselves from speculation that they are preparing a bid to buy troubled Newcastle United.

The club are currently in turmoil as owner Mike Ashley looks for a new buyer following the fall-out from Kevin Keegan's resignation, but do not look any closer to a deal.

"Following incorrect media speculation about Newcastle Football Club, Dubai Investment Group can confirm that it is not involved in any negotiations to buy Newcastle Football Club, nor does it plan to do so in the future," the investment firm, which is a member of Dubai Holding, said in a statement.

Mohammed Ali Al-Hashimi, chairman of Zabeel Investments, another Dubai-based group, has also insisted he has had no direct contact with Newcastle or their representatives.

He said: ''We have not had any contact. I am not interested in any [English Premier League club] right now.''

However, yesterday Ashley was reportedly offered £200million for the club by Dubai investors, but called the offer an insult and snubbed a meeting to instead partake in drinking cocktails at a local bar, according to ArabianBusiness.com.

Ashley reportedly received the offer earlier in the day and was supposed to meet with the Arab investors later that night at 11pm local time.

Instead, he arrived at a nearby bar and stayed there - with Dennis Wise and Derek Llamblas - until after 1am.

Ashley and his party were due to fly back to the UK on Thursday morning. However, it is understood they may leave Dubai on Wednesday, as the chances of any takeover fade.

The Newcastle owner is after £481million for the crisis-hit club and is talking to parties in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and one other country - understood to be China - with vice president Tony Jimenez leading negotiations.

Despite some firms baulking at the asking price - which is effectively twice Ashley's investment in the club - United's hierarchy are confident a deal can be swiftly done to bring an end to the turmoil which has engulfed St James's Park this month.

City sources, however, still remain dubious whether a deal can be done with Middle East investors at anything like the level that Ashley wants.

One source said: "In reality Newcastle have been up for sale for the last six months. If there had been interest from Dubai or Abu Dhabi, it would already have surfaced.

"What makes it even more difficult is that Newcastle do not appear as a very saleable asset at the moment - the club has no manager, the fans are protesting and the team are struggling."

A representative of the Ashley camp suggested at the weekend that fans should join forces to acquire the club themselves if they wanted to run it, and that is exactly what Newcastle Fans United hopes to do.

The pressure group has recruited top sports lawyer Mel Goldberg to front a bid to raise the cash to buy Ashley out.

That could mean the equivalent of 300,000 people investing £1,000 each with shareholders having an equal vote on how the club, which could also be afforded charitable status as a result, is run, although team affairs would be left to the manager.

They hope the likes of Keegan and club legend Alan Shearer will back their attempt to put the club into the hands of its supporters.

Spokesman Peter Lee said: ''Newcastle Fans United are a team of consultants supported by top sports lawyer, Mel Goldberg.

''We seek to create a 'Socio' owned club, similar to FC Barcelona. We urge all Newcastle fans and all supporters of football around the world to get behind the bid.''

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