Mike Ashley's telling move as takeover talks falter at Newcastle
Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley has gone on holiday for Christmas '“ with the club no nearer being sold.
Ashley claimed earlier this month that a sale was possible before Christmas.
“I'm hopeful, for the Newcastle fans, for the club, for everybody, that I will be able to step aside, and we will be able to get an owner in that will please everybody,” said Ashley.
“I would like it to be before the January transfer window.”
However, that timescale always look wildly optimistic, despite Ashley's claim that discussions over a sale were at a "more progressed stage than they’ve ever been".
And the Gazette understands that none of the four interested groups – one of them is led by former Chelsea and Manchester United chief executive Peter Kenyon – have lodged a formal bid.
Ashley – who broke off talks with would-be buyer Amanda Staveley early this year – has left the matter in the hands of his lawyers while he is on his annual holiday over the festive period.
The billionaire – who is looking for upwards of Â£300million for the club he bought 11 years ago – is waiting for one or more of the groups to secure the funds needed to buy the club.
Rafa Benitez, meanwhile, was hoping to discuss the January window with the club's hierarchy this week.
United's manager, desperate to strengthen his squad for the second half of the season, wants to know his transfer budget, having drawn up lists of potential targets, including Atlanta United midfielder Miguel Almiron.
It would take a club-record fee to sign 24-year-old Almiron, who is understood to be keen to join Newcastle.
And Benitez – who had to sell to buy in the summer after refusing to sign a new contract – wants to know where he stands ahead of the window, having done the groundwork head of recruitment Steve Nickson.
Speaking after last weekend's 1-1 win over Huddersfield Town, Benitez said: "I’m telling you that we’re not talking about anyone at the moment. We have to have a meeting, maybe. And then we’ll see our targets."
Benitez will almost certainly leave next summer, when his contract expires, if he is not backed in the window.
The 58-year-old has been left frustrated at a lack of investment since guiding the club back to the Premier League.
Newcastle are 14th in the Premier League ahead of Saturday's home game against basement club Fulham.