Newcastle United takeover a painful reminder of how powerless supporters are

Luke Edwards
Mike Ashley is in talks to sell Newcastle - Getty Images Europe

The best you can say about Amanda Staveley’s attempt to buy Newcastle United, at the moment, is that talks are continuing with Mike Ashley, but there is also a nagging sense of doubt now, a suspicion that hopes have been raised prematurely. That Ashley is not going anywhere.

We are not at that point yet. Negotiations have reached a stalemate because there has been no meaningful improvement on the opening bid of around £250m, made two weeks ago and dismissed as unacceptable.

There is still hope the deadlock will be broken, that these two hard-nosed business people can thrash out terms and Newcastle can start a brave new era, with a new owner and a fresh sense of ambition.

Staveley, having failed to secure the purchase of Liverpool in the past, remains keen. We are told she remains committed to buying the club, but will only do so at a price that is right for her.

In turn, Ashley wants to sell, the club remains on the market, but only at a price that is right for him. That has always been the case throughout his 10 years at St James’ Park and while the asking price may have lowered considerably, it is apparently still too high for Staveley.

Having paid £133m to buy the club in 2007 and invested roughly the same amount in the shape of interest-free loans since, Ashley wants to make a profit.

Mike Ashley will only sell at the right price Credit: GETTY IMAGES

When you understand that getting the right deal for him is the thing that gets Ashley out of bed in the morning - it is more than just his motivation, it is his reason for living - you can understand why things have not progressed.

Staveley is trying to play Ashley’s own game against him. He has made a fortune taking over failing brands and reviving them. He moves in when they are limping along, waiting to be killed and saves them from liquidation. Buy low, revive, repeat.

That is what Staveley thinks she can do with Newcastle. Ashley fears another relegation – having never suffered the drop in the Premier League era before he arrived in 2007, Newcastle have gone down twice since.

Staveley seems to believe, when it comes to the crunch, the moment the takeover collapses or a deal is done, he would much rather sell now than risk having to cover the cost of another season in the Championship out of his own bank account.

Amanda Staveley has made an opening bid of around £250m Credit: PA

That is the belief that seems to fuel her negotiating stance. Sell now and hand the risk to me. You want out, I am the only person who can make that happen. There have been no rival bids and that gives Staveley a powerful hand to play.

I am no business expert, my personal finances are testimony to that, but it would make sense to me that Staveley will make one more bid, at the last minute, a take-it-or-leave-it offer that will be in or around the £300m mark. Ashley then has a huge decision to make, but it is by no means certain he will fold in this complex game of poker.

In the meantime, all supporters can do is wait for news like Catholics outside the Sistine Chapel, waiting for a puff of white smoke to signal that a new pope has been elected.

They are prisoners to the whims of two extremely wealthy individuals trying to drive a hard bargain, reminded once again that while football clubs belong to the fans in an emotional sense, they have no control over how they are run or by who.

Newcastle fans want Mike Ashley to sell Credit: PA

You would be hard pushed to find a Newcastle supporter who does not want Staveley to succeed, they have already bought into her vision for the club even though they have no idea what it is, just as they have no idea how much money she in willing to invest in the team.

The point is, they know what Ashley’s vision is. They have had 10 years of it and know things will never improve dramatically. He has failed time and time again to show he wants them to be anything more than a stable Premier League club, bobbing along on the tide, drifting towards the point where they either accumulate enough points to avoid relegation or go under again.

Unfortunately, just because Staveley is the preferred winner in these negotiations, it still does not mean Ashley has to sell. He will not want to lose in the deal making.

Ashley has known for the best part of a decade that he is not wanted, but has stayed all the same because nobody has offered him enough money to sever ties.

This is a game the supporters cannot play. They do not have a seat at the table, let alone any cards to put down. They can only wait and hope this is the moment they break free from the shackles Ashley has imposed on them. It is what the supporters dream of and manager Rafa Benitez also desires.

Rafa Benitez is committed to Newcastle Credit: AFP

The worry is, if the takeover does not happen, expectations have been raised to such an extent, that the damage will be severe. A cloud of depression could hang over the club and the team for weeks, disillusionment and unrest will fester.

Benitez will not quit. He has too much respect for the supporters and affection for the club to do that, but his long-term future at the club will inevitably be thrown into doubt.

Will Ashley care? Probably not, and it is worth remembering that, despite a poor run of five defeats in six games, Newcastle are currently bobbing along in mid-table, clear of the relegation zone. In short, they are where Ashley expects them to be.

If he is under pressure to sell, he will not be feeling it nearly as much as Staveley and everyone on Tyneside hopes.

A deal is there is to be done, doing it is another matter entirely.