Mike Ashley is reportedly in advanced talks with representatives of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund over a £340m takeover of Newcastle United.
Negotiations between the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF), controlled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the Sports Direct founder have been going on for several months.
The deal has been spearheaded by Amanda Staveley, the Dubai-based financer who brokered the sale of Manchester City to Sheik Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family, in 2008.
Talks between Mr Ashely and Ms Staveley over a £250m cash takeover offer collapsed in 2017 amid bitter media briefings.
Mr Ashley bought Newcastle in 2007 for £134m. The Magpies have been relegated twice during his ten years in charge.
Despite his unpopularity on Tyneside, a Saudi-led takeover deal could still be controversial.
The gulf state attracted worldwide criticism in 2018, when Saudi agents killed the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Just last week Crow Prince Mohammed bin Salman was accused of hacking the phone of Amazon owner Jeff Bezos.
The buyout would be a major public relations victory for Saudi Arabia, which is diversifying its economy away from a reliance on oil. Critics of Saudi Arabia’s investment in international sporting events call the practice “sport washing.”
But any deal to buy Newcastle would need to be approved by the Premier League.
Several gulf states have invested in international sports teams in recent. France’s Paris Saint-Germain was bought by Qatar Sports Investments, a state-controlled investment group, in 2011.
If the deal to buy Newcastle goes ahead, Ms Staveley’s private equity firm would reportedly assume a 20 per cent stake in the club, with the Saudi PIF supplying the rest of the funding.
There are also reports that the billionaire brothers David and Simon Reuben would form part of the consortium.
Newcastle United, Staveley and the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) have not commented.