Slow progress in Newcastle sale means Ashley's reign drags on

Club delays preparations for new season as bidders creep towards making offers

The Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley is having to remain patient as his attempt to sell the club drags on. Prospective bidders are edging towards the point where official bids could be made, although the process shows few signs of coming to an end imminently.

Interested parties are at different stages in their efforts to push through a move to buy the Magpies – it is understood a North-east consortium, reportedly led by the club's former chairman Freddy Shepherd, has started due diligence, while the Singapore-based Profitable Group has been asked for proof it can come up with the £100m Ashley has set as his asking price.

In addition, consortia from South Africa and Oman are thought to be in touch with investment bank Seymour Pierce, while speculation over the weekend suggested they may have been joined by potential purchasers from the United States.

That has left London, rather than Tyneside, as the main focus of the club's activities in recent weeks as Seymour Pierce chairman Keith Harris attempts to push through a sale which will end Ashley's ill-fated involvement at St James' Park.

In the meantime, the club has found itself plunged into a hiatus which could undermine their efforts to drag themselves out of the Championship at the first attempt, if it is not addressed soon.

Alan Shearer, who was asked to take charge for the final eight games of last season, went straight into talks with Ashley and managing director Derek Llambias at the end of the campaign and signalled his willingness to take the manager's job on a permanent basis.

Ashley emerged from the initial discussions insisting that bringing the 38-year-old back to his club had been the best decision he had taken during his time on Tyneside.

However, three weeks on, Shearer is still awaiting an answer, with Ashley reluctant to make an appointment as some of those considering buying the club have made it clear they want to take that decision. Speculation over the weekend that Alan Curbishley could be handed the reins to make the club more attractive have been dismissed, but there is little doubt something needs to be done soon if they are not to kick off the new season weeks behind their rivals in terms of preparation.

The Championship fixtures will be published tomorrow with the Magpies yet to announce details of their pre-season campaign.

Shearer outlined his plans for remodelling a squad packed with expensive under-achievers when he met Ashley, knowing the Magpies will have to bite the bullet on the majority of their high-earners.

Michael Owen's representatives have already circulated his details to a series of clubs with the 29-year-old's current contract due to expire at the end of this month, while the likes of Joey Barton, Alan Smith, Fabricio Coloccini and Jonas Gutierrez could lead an exodus out of St James', provided the club can find a buyer.

Shearer, who continued planning for a fortnight after his initial agreement came to an end, also drew up a list of targets to replace them, but has already seen several slip through his grasp because of the continuing uncertainty.

Leeds striker Jermaine Beckford has been heavily linked with a move to Tyneside, while long-term target Per Ciljan Skjelbred is understood not to have been put off by the club's current plight.

The 22-year-old Norwegian playmaker – reportedly also a target for North-east rivals Sunderland as well as Tottenham, Fulham and Torino – was initially identified last year, and Shearer has kept that interest alive.

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