Mike Ashley signals change in approach and 'rules out' Newcastle sale
Mike Ashley told Newcastle United's players that he didn't expect to sell the club this season, according to a report.
Ashley met Rafa Benitez and his players for a meal in Ponteland last night.
It was the first time Ashley had spoken to Benitez since the summer, when they became embroiled in a stand-off over transfer funds and a new contract.
Benitez, now in the final year of his deal, was forced to sell to buy.
Ashley put the club up for sale a year ago, but he hasn't found anyone willing to meet his Â£300million-plus valuation of the club, which is third-bottom of the Premier League ahead of Saturday's game against Manchester United at Old Trafford.
And the Daily Mail claim that Ashley told senior players that they shouldn't be distracted by talk of a sale this season and pledged to take "a more hands-on approach" at the club.
Ashley also reportedly reiterated his support for Benitez ahead of the January transfer window, when United's manager wants to strengthen a number of positions.
Benitez will only commit his future to the club is he is given the resources he needs to make the club competitive in the Premier League.
It is also claimed that Ashley offered to pay for a holiday for the squad if they avoided relegation.
A bonus sheet for the players was eventually submitted in August. The squad, for the second season running, rejected the first offer from the club's hierarchy.
Ashley – who has watched the club's last two games – was confronted by a number of protesting fans when he left the restaurant.
The billionaire appeared to raise his fingers towards one supporter after getting into a waiting car, though Ashley, through a club spokesperson, has "strongly rejected" claims that he swore.