Malaysian consortium given Newcastle tour
The race to buy Newcastle was hotting up today as rival consortia responded to a formal bid from a Malaysian group.
Press Association Sport understands the party of businessmen from Malaysia, who were shown around St James' Park and the club's Darsley Park training headquarters during a flying visit to Tyneside yesterday, have tabled an offer.
It is understood that offer does not equate to current owner Mike Ashley's £100million asking price and may be nearer to £80million, but that the prospective buyers are prepared to take on a working overdraft of up to £40million.
However, while the Malaysians have put themselves in the driving seat and are now favourites to launch a successful takeover, their move has prompted several of the remaining consortia to step up activity with matters seemingly reaching a head.
An America-based group has been among the front-runners for some time - and representatives are said to have visited the training ground earlier this week - while former chairman Freddy Shepherd, the Profitable Group from Singapore and would-be investors from Oman and South Africa have been heavily linked with the club.
Only the Profitable group have acknowledged their interest, and that before they, like all the serious contenders, signed a non-disclosure agreement preventing them from talking about the ongoing negotiations.
But there was never any formal timescale for buyers to contact investment bankers Seymour Pierce, who are handling the sale on Ashley's behalf, and there was always the possibility that someone could make a late run to reach the head of the field.
Indeed, there were suggestions today that a European investor had joined a race which seems at last to be entering the final stages.
Whether or not the Malaysians have made the decisive move will become clearer over the weekend, although until they - or indeed anyone else - signs a sales purchase agreement, the club will remain up for grabs.
However, sources close to the deal are hopeful the formalities could be completed by the middle of next week to end a saga which has proved one of the most damaging in the club's eventful history.
Whoever the new owners are, their first priority will be to appoint a manager with the players already back in pre-season training.
An increasingly frustrated Alan Shearer has been waiting in the wings after initially hoping to be appointed by Ashley and managing director Derek Llambias within days of the end of last season.
The sportswear magnate's decision to put the club on the market once again left him in limbo, and while several of the consortia have indicated the 38-year-old is their preferred choice, the intentions of others, including the Malaysian group, are as yet unknown.
Shearer remains keen on the job, and will hope to have his answer within days with vital time having already been lost.
Caretaker boss Chris Hughton will take those players who returned to Tyneside on Wednesday morning off to their pre-season training camp in Ireland on Sunday, where they will be joined by Damien Duff following his extended break.
They will play Shamrock Rovers in Dublin next Saturday just four weeks before they open their Coca-Cola Championship campaign at West Brom on August 8.
By that point, there are likely to have been significant changes to the playing staff as a wage bill of £74million is severely trimmed.
Shearer informed Ashley and Llambias of his plans - who he wanted to keep and potential targets - at the end of last season, but new owners or a different manager may have other ideas.
One of those who seems certain to have no furture at St James' should Shearer be installed is controversial midfielder Joey Barton, reportedly a loan target for Birmingham, while the Magpies were today linked with a move for out-of-contract Portsmouth defender Sol Campbell.