Saudi consortium linked to £340mn purchase of Newcastle United

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Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund is in talks to buy English soccer club Newcastle United for about £340 million, the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday, citing people familiar with the discussions.

The deal would represent an exit for British billionaire Mike Ashley, who made his fortune from sportswear retailer Sports Direct (renamed Frasers Group (FRAS.L) last month) and first bought into Newcastle United in 2007.

The WSJ said Saudi’s Public Investment Fund, together with a group of investors organised by British financier Amanda Staveley, are in discussions to buy the Premier League club and a deal could be days or weeks away.

A spokesman for Newcastle United declined to comment on Saturday, while Saudi’s Public Investment Fund was not immediately available for comment.

The tentative deal could still break down, the WSJ added.

Newcastle United has been up for sale a number of times and was last year rumoured to be on the brink of being bought by Abu Dhabi billionaire Sheikh Khaled bin Zayed Al Nehayan, but that deal did not go ahead.

Ashley, who owns a controlling stake in the club, has not always been popular among fans and thousands have been staying away from matches this season to protest at his ownership.

Around a third of English soccer clubs are under foreign ownership. Premier League clubs Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United are all under control of Americans, while Manchester City is owned by the Abu Dhabi United Group.