Date published: Tuesday 4th December 2018 6:48

Rafael Benitez insists it is business as usual at Newcastle despite owner Mike Ashley revealing that he hopes to sell the club within weeks.

Ashley sprang something of a surprise on Monday evening when, in a rare television interview, he announced that he is in talks with potential buyers and hopes to conclude a sale before January.

The news caught even those closest to the sportswear magnate on the hop, but was greeted with scepticism by fans who have seen similar approaches in the past come to nothing.

Speaking as he prepared his team for Wednesday night’s Premier League trip to Everton, manager Benitez said: “I was talking today with [managing director] Lee Charnley and the message is very clear: business as usual, so that means I have nothing to say.”

Asked if he had been expecting Ashley’s comments, he added: “No. But we have been in this situation in the past, we have to carry on. We have an important game to play and we have to concentrate on that.”

Press Association Sport understands that talks between the Sports Direct tycoon and two prospective overseas purchasers are ongoing, but that neither yet has an exclusivity agreement and progress has slowed in recent weeks, perhaps the motivation for Monday’s decision to go public.

Ashley pulled the plug on negotiations with Amanda Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners earlier this year, partly in frustration at the public nature of their courtship, making his revelation all the more unexpected.

American billionaire Arthur Blank, owner of NFL club Atlanta Falcons and MLS outfit Atlanta United, had been touted as a potential investor on the other side of the Atlantic, but has since distanced himself from the Magpies.

In addition, former Manchester United and Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon has been trying to secure funding for a bid in recent months, although the identities of the current suitors remain a mystery.

In the meantime, Benitez will carry on with the task of attempting to keep his team in the top flight amid fresh uncertainty behind the scenes, something which proved hugely damaging 12 months ago as Staveley attempted to push through a takeover bid.

His team lost 3-0 at home to West Ham on Saturday and he is desperate to address that at Goodison Park against a club which has enjoyed a luxury he has not of being able to invest heavily in recent seasons.

The Spaniard said: “You have a very clear situation in the Premier League in terms of teams at the top of the table spending a lot of money and teams at the bottom, some of who have spent money, trying to avoid relegation.

“Every game is difficult. Everton spent a lot of money and have some top players and a top manager. They did well in the derby at the weekend. It will be a tough game for us.”


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