Saudi wealth fund in talks to buy Newcastle United for 340 million pounds

FILE PHOTO: Newcastle United players celebrate after Florian Lejeune scores their second goal against Everton on January 21, 2020. Action Images via Reuters/Jason Cairnduff/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund is in talks to buy English soccer club Newcastle United for about 340 million pounds ($447 million), a source familiar with the situation told Reuters, confirming a report in the Wall Street Journal earlier on Saturday.

British billionaire Mike Ashley, who made his fortune from sportswear retailer Sports Direct (renamed Frasers Group last month) has owned Newcastle United since 2007.

Saudi’s Public Investment Fund together with a group led by British financier Amanda Staveley, are in discussions to buy the Premier League club, but the talks were at a delicate stage and could fall apart, a source familiar with the situation told Reuters.

A spokesman for Newcastle United declined to comment on Saturday. Saudi’s Public Investment Fund was not immediately available for comment, nor were representatives for Ashley or Staveley.

Newcastle United has been up for sale for a number of years. Three years ago, Staveley’s firm PCP Capital Partners made an offer for it for a reported 250 million pounds but the talks broke down.

In 2019, Newcastle United was 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 either.

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 in American hands, while Manchester City is owned by the Abu Dhabi United Group.

($1 = 0.7608 pounds)

Reporting by Kirstin Ridley in London and Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru, additional reporting by Simon Evans, writing by Sarah Young; Editing by David Evans, David Holmes and Hugh Lawson