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Newcastle director Lee Charnley insists Mike Ashley is still desperate to sell up

Newcastle managing director Lee Charnley has insisted that controversial owner Mike Ashley remains ‘100 per cent committed’ to completing the sale of the club despite the £300m Saudi royal family takeover bid collapsing.

The proposed takeover by a Saudi Arabian-led consortium sensationally collapsed on Thursday following four months of scrutiny over piracy concerns and human rights complaints in the Gulf state.

Ashley appeared to have been left without a buyer, but Charnley revealed in a statement on Friday morning that the British entrepreneur is still desperate to sell up. 

The consortium, which agreed a deal with Ashley in April, was heavily backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and spearheaded by businesswoman Amanda Staveley. The Reuben family also owned a 10 per cent stake in the venture.

But the Premier League held evident concerns over the involvement of the Saudi investors and spent 16 weeks probing as part of their owners and directors’ test. 

The controversy encompassing the deal was ramped up after Amnesty International and Hatice Cengiz, the fiancee of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, wrote to the Premier League to oppose it.  

A recent World Trade Organisation report discovered representatives from the Kingdom had facilitated the activity of pirate network beoutQ – which illegally broadcasts top flight games among other events – and further plunged the takeover into doubt. 

The lengthy delay led to frustration from the Saudi part of the consortium, who officially announced they would be pulling out on Thursday. They placed blame on the Premier League and government for the heavy scrutiny placed over the dealings.  

But Charnley has hinted there is hope a deal may be revived, telling Sky Sports News: ‘We acknowledge yesterday’s statement. Never say never, but to be clear Mike Ashley is 100% committed to this deal. However our current focus must now be on supporting Steve Bruce in the transfer market and on the preparations for the new season.’ 

Sources close to the Saudi group say they were angered when Ashley attempted to ‘significantly renegotiate’ the £300m asking price, which had already been agreed upon by all parties. He is said to have tried the manoeuvre after the exclusivity deal, penned four months ago, expired.

The statement from the investment group – namely PIF, PCP Capital Partners and the Reuben brothers – also outlined that the financial uncertainty stemming from the coronavirus pandemic was another factor behind the takeover failing.  

Staveley revealed she was left ‘devastated’ after discovering the deal had fallen through – but has hinted she too is hopeful it can be hauled back on track. 

The British businesswoman, who had worked alongside former Manchester City owner Thaksin Shinawatra during Sheikh Mansour’s purchase of the club in 2008,  outlined her grand plans centred around Newcastle and the local community to The Athletic.

She said: ‘We had a plan for £250 million of investment in the club over the first few years, as much as we could put in. And on top of that, we had massive plans to invest in the city, in housing, everything. 

‘We talked with the council. Newcastle are the last great untapped club. The last great club with so much potential to grow and improve and with a fanbase who were already there and who wanted it so much.’ 

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