South Africans 'offer £300m' for Newcastle

Consortium supported by billionaire aims to bring Keegan back to St James'

On another day of claim and counter at Newcastle United, the South African consortium interested in buying the club reportedly submitted an offer of £280m-£300m. No sooner had that been apparently confirmed, however, that sources close to Seymour Pierce, the investment bank commissioned by Mike Ashley to sell Newcastle, said that no formal bid had been received.

The difference of opinion may centre on what constitutes a formal bid and it is understood that a South African bank has made contact with Seymour Pierce. The South Africans, represented in the UK by a Scotland-born businessman called Jonathan Cleland, who grew up in South Africa, have at least one billionaire behind them in the shape of Johann Rupert.

With Rupert, said to be South Africa's richest man, named among their number, the "Bok" consortium have the financial muscle to buy from Ashley. It is not certain they will be able to complete a purchase simply because they have made a bid – formal or informal – but they are now regarded as favourites.

Should they proceed and succeed, one of their first intentions is believed to be the restoration of Kevin Keegan as manager.

That is not straightforward either, though. There are conflicting reports from those close to Keegan as to whether he has met any of the alleged interested parties but also as to what Keegan now views as achievable this season and beyond. Keegan has witnessed the limitations of the Newcastle squad first-hand and knows the overhaul required. This is more than a one- or even two-season task.

Keegan came back from a break in America this week and has been in place to talk, but he will persevere with his claim for constructive dismissal against Newcastle United. As that is thought to amount to £8m, it must be a factor in the overall price. The claim cannot be transferred to Ashley once he sells Newcastle.

Ashley, having invested £191m – £134m purchase price plus £57m mortgage payment – and an unknown amount thereafter, could make as much as £50m profit. Ashley bought the club 16 months ago and has estimated his input at £250m.

Cleland, said to be on Tyneside yesterday, has begun speaking for the South African grouping and said: "Now is the time to reveal who we are out of respect for the supporters. The people of Newcastle deserve better. We are not in any way criticising Mike Ashley's running of Newcastle United. However, quite simply, we have in our consortium the world class skills and talents to achieve the footballing and commercial success required and deserved."

Other business figures named alongside Rupert are Brian Gilbertson, Vivian Imerman and Brian Joffe. Simon Clifford, once close to Juninho at Middlesbrough and promoter of Futsal in Britain, is offering football advice. Clifford had a short period at Southampton as Clive Woodward's assistant and is manager of Garforth Town. Clifford is expected to have a role at the club if the South Africans take over.

Among some financial observers, going public at this time in the process is unusual and to some it has placed a question mark against the South Africans. Privately the Nigerian consortium insists it is still competitive.

Yet there is also discernable caution about other interested parties. "There are red herrings around," one City analyst said yesterday. "But the South Africans are credible, there is an element of determination there."

As the club's future at macro-level was debated, in a small room at Newcastle's Benton training ground the man who replaced Keegan eventually, the interim manager Joe Kinnear, lashed out at what he perceives to be the unnecessarily personal level of coverage of his appointment seven days ago. "It feels more like a year," a peeved Kinnear said.

The former Wimbledon manager Kinnear, who emphasised he was relaying what he has been told by Ashley, said there are up to eight groups considering buying Newcastle. Five consecutive defeats, four of them in the Premier League, do not seem to have made Newcastle unattractive to suitors but Kinnear would probably warn the eventual new owners that things tend to change once the building is entered.

Looking and feeling like a man cornered, Kinnear has been caught up in the tailspin at Newcastle caused by the mismanagement of Ashley and those delegated to represent him. Kinnear said he thinks the criticism he has received has been much too personal.

"I'm ridiculed for no reason," he said. "I'm defenceless. I can't get a point in, I can't say nothing, I can't do nothing."

Expletives were used freely and angrily and later he added: "I haven't come up here for you lot to take the piss out of me." Kinnear said that he is taking legal advice over some articles written.

The 61-year-old was very unhappy with reports of his first morning at training on Monday coinciding with the players having the day off. He said when players arrived back on Tuesday he spoke to them all collectively and to some of the senior players such as Michael Owen individually. That will have been welcomed as the players feel they have been "left in the dark" about the big decisions at St James'.

"He's totally OK with me and agrees that what's going on outside shouldn't affect what's going on on the pitch," Kinnear said of Owen. "We've now got to get the message to the rest.

"The players feel like they've been left in the lurch in terms of the communication from the club but I've told them everything straight and we've just got to get on with it. It's as simple as that."

Newcastle's next game is on Sunday at Everton but it is then three weeks on Monday until the next, at home to Manchester City. If no takeover has been completed by the end of October, when Kinnear's temporary contract expires, he will not depart but will move onto a rolling contract.

"I hate using the word relegation at a big club like Newcastle United," Kinnear said. "But we have to face facts, we are fighting relegation at the moment.

"I sense the confidence is at the lowest it's ever been. But creating a siege mentality will help."

Who are the Bok boys?

Johann Rupert

South African billionaire who is chairman of the Swiss luxury goods company Richemont, owners of Cartier, Alfred Dunhill, Baume et Mercier watches and James Purdey and Sons, the gunmakers. A keen cricketer and golfer, he helped develop the Gary Player-designed Leopard Creek Golf Club, one of South Africa's premier courses. His family is estimated to be worth over US$3bn (£1.7bn).

Brian Joffe

Set up the Bidvest Group 20 years ago and has built it up into one of South Africa's biggest companies with interests in food, catering and distribution, employing over 70,000 people around the world. Wrote a book to mark his 60th birthday last year called Don't open your mouth at your first board meeting.

Vivian Imerman

Used to be the man from Del Monte, the London-based businessman sold his large stake in the food group for £396m in 1999 and then turned round drinks group Whyte & Mackay inside six years, selling it for £595m last year. He gave each of the companies 900 employees three months salary as a leaving present – a gesture that cost him £26m.

Jonathan Cleland

Scottish businessman who was raised in South Africa and specialises in developing major brands. Heads the Bok Consortium. Reported to be ready to appoint Simon Clifford, who has set up a string of Brazilian Soccer Schools, to a youth development role at St James'.

Brian Gilbertson

South African mining tycoon, who created the world's biggest mining company when his Billiton group merged with BHP of Australia in a $28bn deal in 2001. Has since been based in Russia as head of the huge Sual aluminium group.

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