MIKE Ashley has ended speculation that he is ready to sell Newcastle by insisting the club is not for sale at any price for the immediate future.
Rumours have been rife that the sportswear magnate was preparing to offload the club he bought in 2007 and snap up cash-strapped Rangers instead.
However, the Magpies moved yesterday to dismiss the claims, in the process banning the Daily Telegraph for its coverage of the story.
A statement said: “The truth is, Mike Ashley remains committed to Newcastle United.
“For the avoidance of doubt, this means that for the remainder of this season and at least until the end of next season, Mike Ashley will not, under any circumstances, sell Newcastle United at any price.
“The club cannot be stronger in stating its position on this matter.”
The news may come as a blow to Ashley’s most vociferous critics, who still rail against his treatment of Kevin Keegan and Alan Shearer, his decision to twice appoint Joe Kinnear to positions of power at St James’ Park, his renaming of the stadium and the sponsorship deal struck with payday lender Wonga.
But above all, supporters remain furious at a perceived lack of ambition, with comfortable Barclays Premier League survival the major focus.
Ashley has rationalised the club’s operations to the point where they are self-sufficient, a far cry from the position in which he found Newcastle when he snapped them up for £134.4million and then had to make interest-free loans totalling around £129million.
However, his financial realism means there is no wild spending on transfers, and while manager Alan Pardew has been able to invest heavily this summer, that spending spree has been funded largely by the proceeds from the sales of Yohan Cabaye and Mathieu Debuchy.
Ashley, of course, has twice tried to sell the club during his reign to date and in effect, it has been available for much of the last six years, although no credible buyers have emerged and there is no potential deal currently in the pipeline.
If yesterday’s statement suggested stability in the boardroom, Pardew’s position remains less assured despite sources on Tyneside denying claims he has just two games in which to save his job.
Today’s trip to Southampton and Hull’s visit to Tyneside the weekend after are undoubtedly key games for the 53-year-old, who is still awaiting a first Barclays Premier League win of the campaign, although he has asked for patience as he attempts to bed in his summer signings.
The Magpies recruited nine new faces during the close season, seven of whom are fighting for first-team places with Daryl Janmaat, Jack Colback, Remy Cabella, Siem de Jong and Emmanuel Riviere having been thrown in at the deep end during the opening weeks of the campaign.
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