ALAN Shearer’s desire to become Newcastle United’s permanent manager has not been weakened by confirmation owner Mike Ashley has decided to sell the club.
Ashley has put Newcastle on the market for the second time in a year, this time for just £100m, waivering his right for repayment of the £100m interest-free loan he gave the club to clear its debt two years ago.
Keith Harris, chairman of Seymour Pierce and bankers at NM Rothschild, have been put in charge of finding new owners and Harris is “confident” a buyer can be found, with firm interest already shown from two different consortia.
However, it is believed the most advanced talks have taken place with a foreign-based group which is only willing to pay Ashley – who spent £134m to take control in June 2007 – £80m for a club which is struggling to balance the books following relegation to the Championship.
In the meantime, Shearer’s attempts to become manager have been thwarted, with talks effectively reaching a stalemate at the end of last week.
Shearer has insisted upon strict control of the sale of players and also wants a firm guarantee that he will have a budget of around £20m to spend on new ones regardless of how much is raised through sales.
That has been loosely agreed, although Shearer’s wage demands – thought to be around £2.5m a year – and his assistant Iain Dowie’s have been another stumbling block and the matter has been passed on to the banks who are in charge of the financial restructuring of the club in the Championship.
They are working out whether that package can be incorporated alongside Shearer’s other conditions of employment and the answer may not be known until the end of the week. In the meantime Newcastle are stuck in limbo.
Shearer, who already knew about Ashley’s intention to sell, is relatively relaxed about the situation and is “keeping his fingers crossed” that an agreement will be reached with the banks.
Nevertheless, he is also frustrated by the delay and concerned that his proposed appointment will be cancelled if the green light is not given.
If Shearer’s demands can not be met and he reluctantly walks away, Ashley is expected to once more turn to Joe Kinnear as an interim manager.
Kinnear – who filled the manager’s role for four months this season following the exit of Kevin Keegan before he was sent to hospital with heart trouble – has been recovering at home and will be given the job if a buy-out does not materialise in the next month.
A senior United official said: “Mike does not want the £100m loan back, he just wants to sell up and get out of there. He has lost more than £150m and we have informed Keith Harris to find a buyer. We have been told there has been interest from a few groups already and so hopefully things will move along quickly.
“We are still hoping the issues with Alan can be resolved, but it is in the hands of the bankers now and we have to wait until they make a decision. They will decide whether they are acceptable within the financial constraints relegation has brought.” The Journal understands that former Newcastle chairman Freddie Shepherd is not involved with any of the groups who have approached Seymour Pierce, although he is still extremely keen to to be part of a takeover bid.
Significantly, the presence of Shearer is attractive to potential buyers who realise he is the only manager capable of offering genuine hope to fans that the crash into the Championship will not be a prolonged one.
Should Shearer depart, a unique selling point will be lost and this is bound to influence the banks, who are keen to ensure the club returns to a sound financial footing as quickly as possible.
Meanwhile, Ashley admitted he regretted ever getting involved with Newcastle United following two troublesome years on Tyneside.
He said: “It has been catastrophic for everybody. I’ve lost my money and I’ve made terrible decisions. Now I want to sell it as soon as I can. Of course I regret it. I never said I was an expert in football clubs. I was just a fan – although a very wealthy fan. But I’m not so wealthy now. I put my money into it and I tried my best. But I accept my best was woefully short. I am genuinely sorry for everybody about what has happened.”