LONDON • Newcastle United could become the latest European club to come under Chinese ownership, after owner Mike Ashley put the English Premier League club up for sale on Monday.
It is understood that non-disclosure agreements have been signed with more than one party - with interest believed to have come from China - but no formal offer has yet been made or accepted.
This week's Chinese Communist Party Congress in Beijing could prove crucial in facilitating any takeover, as it is thought President Xi Jinping will determine whether Chinese consortia and individuals are once again permitted to invest in foreign football clubs.
Chinese consortia have invested in the likes of AC Milan, Inter Milan, West Brom and Southampton.
However, China's State Council formally placed sports clubs on a list of industries in which investment is restricted overseas earlier this month, with the purpose of limiting 'irrational' spending outside the country.
It was suggested that President Xi is likely to relax the rules, opening the doors to a Chinese takeover of Newcastle. An unnamed Chinese consortium was reported to have expressed interest in the club as recently as June.
Our intentions are to see if the club can be bought by new ownership by potentially Christmas... hopefully by Christmas, a sale could conclude.
ANDREW HENDERSON, a lawyer for St James' Holdings, on owner Mike Ashley wanting negotiations to go through without a hitch.
Andrew Henderson, the lawyer for Ashley's company St James' Holdings, revealed the hope is to conclude a sale by Christmas.
He said: "Our intentions are to see if the club can be bought by new ownership by potentially Christmas. That would allow seriously interested parties to put themselves forward.
"It would allow a diligence period to carry on, then hopefully by Christmas, a sale could conclude."
Ashley, who paid £134 million (S$241 million) for Newcastle, has been a polarising figure since taking over at St James' Park in 2007 and the sports retail tycoon has decided now is the time to step down.
Newcastle have twice been relegated from the Premier League in the Ashley era, with the 53-year-old angering Magpies fans with his failed managerial appointments and his decision to sell naming rights to the club's historic stadium.
Ashley has also frustrated current Newcastle manager Rafael Benitez by failing to back the Spaniard in the transfer market.
"As one of the Premier League's oldest and best supported football clubs - and for the benefit of its many fans and supporters in the UK and across the world - Newcastle United requires a clear direction and a path to a bright and successful future," an official Newcastle statement read.
"To give the club the best possible opportunity of securing the positioning and investment necessary to take it to the next level, at what is an important time in its history, its present ownership has determined that it is in the best interests of Newcastle United and its fans for the club to be put up for sale."
Speculation over Newcastle's future was also ramped up after the appearance of financier Amanda Staveley at their match against Liverpool earlier this month.
After initially trying to win over fans by sitting with them at away matches - the Londoner was often pictured in a Newcastle shirt drinking beer with supporters.
Newcastle are ninth in the Premier League table after Sunday's 2-2 draw at Southampton.
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE