The former Newcastle United owner, Mike Ashley, has claimed he rejected a higher bid than the £300m offer that led to Thursday’s takeover by a Saudi Arabia-led group on Thursday, but believed he had acted in the best interests of the club.
Newcastle were bought by a group comprising Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, PCP Capital Partners and RB Sports & Media, ending years of uncertainty and leading to jubilant scenes outside the team’s St James’ Park ground when the news was confirmed just after 5pm.
In an exclusive interview with the Sun newspaper published on Thursday evening, Ashley defended his 14-year ownership of the Premier League club and said he fought “tooth and nail” to get the takeover deal completed.
“I received a higher offer for the club than the one that I accepted,” Ashley said. “It was from another reputable bidder who made a credible case … But I felt the bid that we accepted from the current new owners would deliver the best for Newcastle United. Money wasn’t my only consideration.”
Ashley, the owner of sportswear chain Sports Direct among other businesses, had become deeply unpopular among Newcastle fans over what most saw as a lack of investment. The club were relegated twice during his 14 years in charge, but immediately bounced back to the top flight on both occasions.
“There were times when I stepped in financially to keep Newcastle United afloat,” the 57-year-old added. “We ensured the wage bills were paid when we went down in order that we could bounce straight back up. Nobody was happier than me when we achieved immediate promotion.”
“It’s hard to compete at the highest level in football with certain clubs that have almost unlimited resources,” Ashley continued. “I’ve known for some time now that many Newcastle fans were frustrated by the situation and were in favour of a change. I therefore felt that I owed it to the fans to fight tooth and nail over the last 18 months or so to make this happen.”
The club’s new non-executive chairman, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, has outlined his plans in an open letter, published in the Newcastle Chronicle on Friday. “As the new owners, we will listen to the community,” he wrote. “Owning this club is not a responsibility we have taken on lightly.”
“We want to create a consistently successful team,” Al-Rumayyan added. “We’re here to build long-term success for the club. We want to talk to people at the club and across the wider community to get their input before we finalise our plans. We will make sure to focus on things that will deliver long-term success.”
Amanda Staveley, who is now a director at Newcastle after playing a key role in the takeover, has said the new owners’ aim is for the team to be “regularly competing for major trophies”. The club have not won a major trophy since 1969 and are currently mired in the Premier League relegation zone.