Uncertainty builds at Newcastle after Ashley admission

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The Independent Online

Mike Ashley, in a rare, brief, yet candid assessment of his ownership of Newcastle United, revealed publicly for the first time yesterday that he is seeking outside investment, an admission that will concern Newcastle fans already troubled by the club's lack of activity in the transfer market this summer.

Ashley denied recent stories that he is looking to sell Newcastle a year after he bought the club from Sir John Hall and Freddy Shepherd, but Ashley substantiated reports that he is willing to speak to others with a view to their purchasing part of the club.

Ashley said of a 100 per cent sale, "That is not true," before adding: "I would say that I am keen to have partners in Newcastle. That's a very expensive seat I sit in."

What form a "partnership" would take is unclear. Ashley has spent around £250m buying Newcastle and wiping out inherited debt, so an influential shareholding would require a large initial investment and then a willingness to share costs. It is likely that any party would wish to have control for such an outlay.

There have been persistent rumours linking Newcastle to various other parties, including at the weekend a connection to a Middle East company run by Osama bin Laden's half-brother. Ashley laughed that off, saying: "I think I'll start with people from Newcastle not in some cave in Afghanistan."

But a spokesman for Bakri bin Laden said on Monday that while his company had no interest in Newcastle currently, it could do. "Maybe in the future, about six months or so."

This all adds to the uncertainty locally regarding Ashley's motivation. His comments are telling from a man famous for his lack of public speaking. They suggest that Ashley has found the scale of football's peculiar economics to be alarming and that any early plans to invest heavily and repeatedly in the squad have been downgraded.

The manager Kevin Keegan is unlikely to be reassured about summer spending when Ashley discusses overheads in such a manner. The gloomy economic climate appears to be having a direct impact at Newcastle, where there has been one signing, Real Mallorca's Jonas Gutierrez. Keegan's squad is small and yesterday's news that Joey Barton is being held in prison for another month is a reminder of Newcastle's limited options.

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