Newcaste buyers step up interest

The Singapore-based Profitable Group have made formal contact with the people charged with the task of selling Newcastle.

It is understood they have registered their interest with Seymour Pierce a day after sources close to the group claimed it was planning a bid.

Several parties have contacted the investment bank, whose chairman Keith Harris has once again been handed the job of finding a buyer at owner Mike Ashley's asking price of £100million.

However, despite the sportswear magnate's insistence he will sell the club on a first come, first served basis, the process remains in its infancy.

There was again no official comment from the group's Singapore offices, while senior club officials had earlier dismissed suggestions that discussions had already taken place and revealed there had been talks with "three or four" other parties.

But Profitable have privately insisted they are serious candidates as a list of contenders gradually emerges.

The company, which has former Liverpool midfielder Steve McMahon as its group commercial director, is the first to raise its head above the parapet, although it may not be the last.

A South African consortium and an Oman-based group reportedly retain an interest in Newcastle, while speculation involving former chairman Freddy Shepherd refuses to go away.

Shepherd, who was left with little choice but to sell his shares to Ashley after he had bought out the Hall family, is rumoured to have been asked to spearhead a bid by an unidentified consortium.

Intriguingly, the city's evening newspaper, the Evening Chronicle, has claimed Shepherd has already held talks with Alan Shearer, although the nature of their meeting remains unclear.

The man who took over the St James' Park hot-seat from Sir John Hall and accepted the challenge of establishing the club as a force in English football has remained silent amid a flurry of stories, although it is understood he is closely monitoring the situation.

Just how far talks with the Profitable Group progress remains to be seen, but it is not the first time the Magpies have entered into discussions with potential purchasers.

Seven consortia received prospectuses from the club and signed non-disclosure agreements last year after Ashley decided to sell in the wake of a fans' backlash following Kevin Keegan's departure as manager.

Two of them, one from South Africa and another from Nigeria, were particularly vocal about their plans for the club.

However, none of the interested parties were able to come up with a package which satisfied the owner, who was then understood to be looking for around £300million.

This time around, the level at which he is prepared to sell is much lower, a reflection both of his desperation to end a venture which has proved disastrous, and of the club's plummeting value and projected income as a result of relegation from the Barclays Premier League.

Ashley paid £134.4m to gain complete control at St James' in May 2007, and has since pumped a further £110million into the club to address its debts and re-shape the squad.

However, a series of, by his own admission, terrible decisions saw a club which played in the second group stage of the Champions League just six years ago slip into the Coca-Cola Championship with barely a whimper at the end of last season.

The ongoing uncertainly means a managerial appointment is unlikely - the Profitable Group would install Shearer - and time is fast running out before the players return for pre-season training on July 1.

But whoever takes over faces the prospect of revamping the squad and drastically reducing a wage bill which has spiralled out of control in recent seasons.

The need for that process to begin will be brought into sharper focus by the release of next season's fixtures in seven days' time, but with any buyer likely to want to carry out due diligence - something Ashley expensively neglected to do - any possible solution seems weeks away yet.

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