Mike Ashley makes contingency plans at Newcastle United

Mike Ashley’s been forced to make contingency plans for next season at Newcastle United – as he waits for a takeover decision from the Premier League.

Tuesday, 7th July 2020, 11:45 am

Ashley agreed to sell the club to Amanda Staveley, backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, for £300million in early April.

The Premier League’s owners’ and directors’ test quickly became bogged amid objections over TV piracy in Saudi Arabia and the kingdom’s human rights record.

And a concerned Ashley is still waiting for a decision almost three months after the deal was struck.

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Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley, left, and managing director Lee Charnley.

Saudi Arabia pledged to take more action to address the issue of piracy on the back of a critical World Trade Organisation report into Qatari allegations last month, and Premier League chief executive Richard Masters said late last month that he hoped that the test would conclude “shortly”.

“All processes have to conclude, and I would like the process to conclude shortly,” said Masters.

The Premier League has been primarily focused on the restart following the enforced suspension of football due to the coronavirus pandemic – one insider mentioned “bandwidth” as a factor in the delay earlier in the process – but there’s now increasing unease on Tyneside at the delay.

Ashley, focused on his retail empire, had been expecting a swifter conclusion, and United’s owner has had to engage in some short-term planning in case the decision goes against the club’s prospective owners.

Steve Bruce.

Justin Barnes, Ashley’s close associate, was at St James’s Park on Sunday to see the 12th-placed club’s 2-2 draw against West Ham United.

Barnes handled negotiations with Staveley and her backers, and he has previously had an input into contract talks. Andy Carroll and Javier Manquillo recently signed new deals, while the club is still in discussions with Matty Longstaff over a new contract.

Longstaff’s deal expires at the end of the season, and head coach Steve Bruce admitted at the weekend that there had not been a breakthrough.

Ashley had been ready to leave all key decisions to the club’s would-be owners.