IN a sign that the saga surrounding the future ownership of Newcastle United could finally be reaching an end, the Malaysian businessmen who were shown around the club last week were back for another look yesterday.
The Malaysians are not the only consortium interested in buying United – managing director Derek Llambias claimed this week that “more than two” have met Mike Ashley’s £100m asking price – but they have been the least discreet.
They were shown around St James’s Park and the club’s Darsley Park training ground last Thursday, and arrived back at the training complex by private helicopter yesterday.
They landed at 5pm and left an hour-and-a-half later. On both occasions Llambias was seen showing them around.
The difference between this trip and the last is believed to be the presence yesterday of the second largest investor in the consortium.
As all parties carrying out due dilligence on the club have signed confidentiality agreements, it is not known for certain if the Malaysians are one of the parties to have lodged a £100m offer or whether the latest guided tour was a final attempt to persuade them to do so. But the news of it will surely serve as a hurry-up to any other interested parties yet to make their own minds up.
The club’s playing staff have also been applying pressure for a resolution to what has been a very long drawn-out affair.
Reports surfaced yesterday that certain members of the playing staff would re-think their very public expressions of loyalty to United if Alan Shearer is not appointed as manager within a fortnight.
Newcastle have been without a manager since their relegation from the Premier League was confirmed on May 24. Despite having won only one of the eight matches he presided over as caretaker at the end of last season, Shearer is the popular choice among players and supporters alike to become the Magpies’ first permanent manager since Kevin Keegan’s resignation in September.
Shearer is widely seen as the manager-in-waiting and although he officially ceased to be a club employee hours after the 1-0 defeat at Aston Villa which consigned them to the Championship, this pre-season has born his stamp.
The club’s record goalscorer drew up the pre-season programme United’s players are currently embarking on, has told the board of the three players he does not
want sold, and is ready with a list of transfer targets should he be installed.
In the meantime Chris Hughton has again be asked to fill the breach and United’s caretaker manager insisted yesterday the off-field turmoil is not affecting the squad.
United are currently in Dublin on a week-long training camp which will culminate in Saturday’s friendly at Shamrock Rovers. The squad includes Obafemi Martins and Fabricio Coloccini, who the club are currently trying to sell, plus numerous others who would no doubt like to move on rather than spend a season outside of the Premier League.
Nevertheless, Hughton says he has been delighted with the mood.
“It’s going very well,” he said. “The thing you want from players is work ethic and they have been very concentrated as far as that is concerned. It’s been hard work for them but that’s why we’re here.
“The facilities are excellent and the pitches are very good and of course that has helped.” There was a nod to the turmoil engulfing the club back home, but Hughton put a positive spin on that too.
“I must say you would not know there is uncertainty about the future of the club from the mood around the players,” he added, in an interview with the club’s official website. “This trip has been ideal in many ways in getting the lads away from that. There’s a great spirit and they are a group who enjoy each other’s company.”
Hughton is putting the players through a rigorous training routine with their opening Championship game at West Bromwich Albion exactly a month away.
“We’ve seen the lads having a laugh but that’s only after the hard work on the training pitch,” he said.
“We’re making the most of the full 24 hours and that’s why the squad are training three times a day, starting at 7am, then again at 10.30am and finally at 4pm.
“We’re determined to have the best possible pre-season preparation and so far it’s gone very well.”