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Premier League

Ashley 'to ditch Newcastle sale'

Latest twist in Toon soap opera as Kinnear reveals owner is struggling to offload club and is ready to rebuild next season

Newcastle United are still for sale but their interim manager, Joe Kinnear, has confirmed that discussions involving the owner, Mike Ashley, have begun in the event of Ashley being unable to find a buyer.

Talking for the first time about the possibility of Ashley being at St James' Park next season, Kinnear said: "He's already talked to me about that, the possibility of staying on if it's not sold." When asked if he sensed Ashley was beginning to plan for the non-sale scenario, Kinnear replied: "I get that sense, I'm getting optimistic about it, let's put it that way. But you don't know what's around the corner.

"He will sell it if someone comes in with the right offer. We've spoken about the future. He [Ashley] has said: 'It looks like I'm not going to be able to sell it so we'll have to start talking about next year as well.' He's talking about it in long terms, he's comingto terms with the idea that he isn't about to sell it. Therefore he wants to get back in and rebuild the club, ifyou like."

How Newcastle fans, who rebelled against Ashley and his "Cockney Mafia" regime, will take these words remains to be seen. Supporters were infuriated by the treatment of the previous manager, Kevin Keegan, who is now involved in a lawsuit against the club. The expectation was that Keegan's claim would be heard in early January, but it is understood that after a preliminary hearing last week it could be March before legal arguments are heard. There is still the chance of an out-of-court settlement.

"When something else is out of the way I think you'll see a different picture," Kinnear said of Ashley. "I think you'll see a different Mike when that's all been put to bed. I know it's hurting him, the position he is in, and I know he definitely wants to come back.

"I think once the fans see he's prepared to invest back in the club, once they see we're improving, the team's getting better, a few more players added, it's all pluses on his side."

Newcastle host Tottenham today. "Two clubs waiting to happen," Kinnear said, "if they get the backing of the owners."