Former Manchester United and Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon is plotting a takeover bid for Newcastle United that could end Mike Ashley’s decade-long ownership of the Premier League club.
Sky News can reveal that Mr Kenyon has approached a number of potential financial backers in recent weeks about the idea of collaborating on a deal.
City sources said this weekend that he was working on a bid with Rockefeller Capital Management, a New York-based firm run by Greg Fleming, one of the most prominent figures on Wall Street from his time at Merrill Lynch and then Morgan Stanley’s wealth and asset management divisions.
Mr Kenyon, who is now a director of a sports consultancy business called Opto Advisers, is said by potential investors to have held preliminary talks with Mr Ashley, the Sports Direct chief executive who bought Newcastle in 2007.
The value likely to be attached to Mr Kenyon’s offer was unclear on Saturday.
If a bid from him was successful, Mr Kenyon would take a senior role in the running of the club, according to a source who has been told about his plans.
He is said to believe that there is a significant opportunity to expand Newcastle’s commercial revenues, with the club enjoying a significant international following as well as a large and loyal support at St James’ Park.
However, any takeover is far from guaranteed, and is partly dependent upon Mr Kenyon securing financing commitments from investors.
In the last few weeks, he has approached a number of private equity firms, high net worth individuals and family offices about backing an offer for Newcastle, although the status of those discussions was unclear this weekend.
Mr Kenyon has forged close ties with a number of Chinese investors in European football clubs, although it is not known whether any of the prospective funders of his bid for Newcastle United would be from the world’s second-largest economy.
He remains a credible figure in the football world, having run two of the English game’s most successful teams.
After leaving Chelsea in 2009, Mr Kenyon had a spell at the helm of the international sports division of Creative Artists Agency, the talent management group.
He resigned from CAA in 2011, since when he has played what associates describe as a behind-the-scenes role in a number of sizeable football deals.
Many Newcastle fans are desperate for a change of owner, having seen their team relegated twice during Mr Ashley’s tenure.
Despite formally putting the club up for sale, however, there have been significant obstacles to a deal, including his reported £400m asking price for the club.
Mr Ashley, who recently orchestrated Sports Direct’s £90m acquisition of House of Fraser within hours of it falling into administration, originally put Newcastle on the market last October, saying he hoped to find a buyer by Christmas.
Since then, he has held talks with several bidders, including Amanda Staveley, the City financier behind a vehicle called PCP Capital Partners.
Negotiations between Mr Ashley and PCP, which was said to have proposed a deal structured to be worth in the region of £300m including deferred payments, broke down earlier this year.
It is unclear whether the Sports Direct tycoon is engaged in talks with any other prospective buyers of the club.
Renewed speculation about the Magpies’ future ownership comes amid talks about prospective takeovers of other prominent Premier League clubs.
Allisher Usmanov, the Ukrainian tycoon, recently sold his £600m stake in Arsenal to fellow shareholder Stan Kroenke, a deal which has triggered the club’s delisting from a junior London stock exchange.
Meanwhile, Roman Abramovich, the Russian owner of Chelsea, has been exploring options for his shareholding following his withdrawal of an application to renew his investor visa.
There is also continuing speculation that both Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur could change hands in the coming months, with an influx of broadcast rights money from companies including Sky plc, the owner of Sky News, fuelling investors’ appetite to buy top English clubs.
Mr Kenyon could not be reached for comment this weekend.