Can We Believe A Word Ashley Says?

Mike Ashley hopes to sell Newcastle before the January transfer window opens after revealing ongoing talks are at a "more progressed stage" than they have ever been.

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The controversial sportswear magnate stunned supporters protesting over his running of the club on Monday when he announced in an interview with Sky News that he is hopeful of finally offloading the club he put up for sale for the third time in October last year.

Ashley said: "I am hopeful for the Newcastle fans, for the club, for everybody, that I will be able to step aside and we will be able to get an owner in that will please everybody.

"I'd like it to be before the January transfer window."

Asked whether that was a realistic proposition, he added that it was "possible", but that realistic was "maybe too strong a word".

Ashley, who did not name the interested party, added: "Hopefully we can carry on the good form - just recent good form - and we can get the deal done.

"Talks are at a more progressed stage than they've ever been."

Ashley pulled out of talks with Amanda Staveley's PCP Capital Partners in January after failing to strike a deal, while former Manchester United and Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon is also understood to have expressed an interest in putting together a consortium to buy out Ashley.

There were also reports last month that he was in advanced talks with an American consortium, although sources close to the owner insisted they were mystified by the claims at the time.

The Sports Direct tycoon took control at St James' Park in 2007, but has endured a turbulent 11 and a half years at the helm.

Fans have been in open revolt for much of his time on Tyneside with the billionaire having insisted he cannot afford to take the club to the next level.

That has left manager Rafael Benitez's future in doubt with the 58-year-old Spaniard, who is out of contract at the end of this season, having been disappointed with the club's transfer dealings for much of his reign to date.

Benitez guided the Magpies to a 10th place finish in the Premier League last season 12 months after dragging them back out of the Sky Bet Championship at the first attempt despite having to work to a tight budget, and then presented Ashley with a masterplan to build upon that achievement.

However, Newcastle made a profit on transfers of more than £20million during the summer amid a stand-off between the two men with the manager unwilling to sign a contract extension until he was assured of the club's ambition, and Ashley refusing to give those assurances until pen was put to paper.

Benitez's side lost 3-0 at home to West Ham on Saturday, a result which ended a run of three successive victories, their first of the season after a difficult start.

They are currently 15th in the table with 12 points from their opening 14 fixtures, and face Wolves at St James' on Sunday with protestors calling for a boycott of the televised match.