Nigerian tycoons ready bid for Newcastle

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The Independent Football

Four Nigerian tycoons are finalising a bid to buy Premier League club Newcastle United and could ask fans' hero Kevin Keegan to return as manager if they succeed, the businessman leading the bid told Reuters.

Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley put the team up for sale two weeks ago, having fallen foul of the fans after Keegan resigned saying he did not have full control over the buying and selling of players.

Chris Nathaniel, a London-based businessman who runs football and entertainment consultancy NVA Management, said four Nigerian entrepreneurs were ready to put up the cash to buy the club and that their bid was being finalised.

"We're at the stage now where our end are doing the relevant security checks on the individuals who have the money," Nathaniel, who is coordinating the bid, told Reuters.

"We have a lawyer here who is doing those checks before finally submitting a bid to Newcastle," he said by telephone.

Nigerian media reports have said the consortium - whose members remain a closely guarded secret - have come up with £350m so far but want to find an additional £100-150m to secure the deal.

Nathaniel said that until the British lawyers had finalised their checks and drawn up the paperwork, it was difficult to say exactly how much money had been put forward.

"We don't know is the honest answer. We're not going to know that until it's lodged with the lawyers here," he said.

"I've been told the money is there in Nigeria but I need to see evidence of it here before we can present it to the club."

Ashley completed his £134m takeover of Newcastle in July, 2007, but his relationship with the fans has deteriorated rapidly since Keegan's sudden exit on 4 September, just eight months after returning for a second spell as manager.

"Kevin's a legend on Tyneside and I think anybody looking to buy that football club would not be very smart if they didn't have Kevin involved in some capacity, that's if Kevin wants to come back," Nathaniel said.

"If I was advising anyone that was buying the club I would certainly suggest Kevin would be the right man for the job," he said, adding he had not yet contacted Keegan about returning.

Nathaniel, one of whose parents is Nigerian, said the idea of a Nigerian bid for an English club came during a trip to the soccer-mad West African country this year with Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand, one of NVA Management's clients.

"We met a few characters, individuals, and said to them it'd be good to get a Nigerian team buying a football club. We were talking about doing matches out in Nigeria, various other conversations came out of it, and one of them was to buy a football club," he said.

"When it became clear that Newcastle was up for sale, that's when I suggested it to them, and they said fantastic idea, we'll go and raise the money."

Nathaniel said he hoped the deal could create opportunities for young talent in Africa's most populous nation by using one of the local teams as a feeder club to Newcastle. Owning a Premier League club would also be a huge status symbol.

"It's a chance for Nigerians to do an Abramovich," said one Lagos-based banker, referring to high-profile Chelsea owner and Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.

Nathaniel said the businessmen involved had requested anonymity until the deal went through.

"They're used to whatever they go for they get, and they don't want to be seen as failing in their country if they don't manage to secure this deal," he said.

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