Mike Ashley gives Debenhams the electric shock treatment

What is Debenhams' biggest shareholder doing, talking the retailer down in the crucial week before Christmas?

At a meeting on Thursday morning, convened to discuss Sports Direct's half-year results, not a single analyst asked Mike Ashley about Debenhams.

Unprompted, he launched into an extraordinary, deliberate tirade against the board of Debenhams, suggesting the retailer isn't long for this digital world.

"It makes you want to blow your brains out!" Ashley thundered. "They can save Debenhams and they won't and it's not my fault."

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Ashley told analysts he'd offered to lend £40 million to Debenhams, interest free, but that the management team had spurned his offer of help.

A letter was produced, as proof of Ashley's generosity. The letter mentioned the loan but made no mention of the strings attached.

In return for the money, Ashley was demanding an additional 10% stake in Debenhams and security on the loan.

In case of emergency, he'd be first in the queue of creditors, before the Debenhams pension fund and its banks.

A letter outlining Mike Ashley's offer to Debenhams.

Debenhams thanked Sports Direct for its offer but politely declined in "the interests of other stakeholders".

"It's like being offered Messi on loan and turning him down," exclaimed Ashley. Debenhams spied a hospital pass.

Mike Ashley's rage is plausibly authentic. Sports Direct has spent £150 million in recent years, accumulating a 30% stake in Debenhams. That stake is currently worth £20m.

A glance at the share price tells you Debenhams has problems, so why stick the boot in publicly and at such a sensitive time? After all, if the company goes bust in the way Ashley suggests it might, he gets wiped out.

"A statement of support," declared Ashley. Debenhams' 25,000 staff will probably be wishing he hadn't bothered.

Ashley's loan offer looks like a classic attempt to chisel a deal and seize control. He could buy the 70% of Debenhams he doesn't own for around £50 million (small change to him). Ashley appears to want it for less and he's playing hardball. It's brutal, it's bold. It's rather brilliant.

Some £200 million was wiped off of Sports Direct's market value.

Less brilliant was the collateral damage Ashley inflicted on his own company. His assertion that last month was "the worst November for retailers in living memory" and would "literally smash" some "to pieces" sent Sports Direct's share price into a tail spin.

The comments took the shine off a solid set of results for the six months to October and wiped £200 million off Sports Direct's stock market value.

The hullabaloo Ashley created also drowned out other meaningful questions, such as "what's the plan for House of Fraser?"

The department store chain lost an eye-popping £31 million in eleven weeks.

58 of the 59 stores Sports Direct acquired out of administration in August remain open but there will be surely be a series of closures at some point in 2019. Particularly as the ambition is that House of Fraser will be profitable next year.