Sheffield United takeover: Mike Ashley's previous interests with Newcastle United, Rangers and Derby County as he's linked with Blades

At a club previously owned by a wanted fugitive, and a man who later reappeared as a woman before transitioning back to a man again, life has rarely been dull in the boardroom at Sheffield United.

Thursday, 21st April 2022, 12:33 pm

But things could take another interesting twist should Mike Ashley, the controversial billionaire former owner of Newcastle United, follow up his interest in United, as revealed in these pages earlier this week.

Newcastle United sale

Ashley pocketed around £300m from his sale of the Magpies, and was perhaps crucially not put off owning a football club in the future after his experiences in the north east.

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United, owned by Saudi royal Prince Abdullah are also understood to be in talks at the top level with Americans about a possible change of ownership at Bramall Lane, but Ashley is also keeping an eye on proceedings as he eyes a possible return to football.

Ashley – according to Forbes, the 1,299th richest man in the world with a reported net worth of £2.27billion – kickstarted his career by forming Sports Direct as an 18-year-old. It grew massively and Ashley pocketed around £1.3billion when it went public, enabling the Walsall-born entrepreneur to expand into a number of struggling companies in a bid to turn their fortunes around.

Mike Ashley’s first football moves and Newcastle United

Former Newcastle owner Mike Ashley is looking at Sheffield United: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire.

Ashley made his first foray into football in 2007, on the back of Sports Direct going public, by buying a controlling stake in Newcastle for around £134million. His takeover was initially popular, Ashley being seen sitting with the Magpies supporters and drinking beer in the stand, but he first tried to sell the club a year later after the resignation of club legend Kevin Keegan as manager.

Ashley struggled to find a buyer after Newcastle were relegated to the Championship, but they were promoted back to the Premier League at the first attempt and his search continued. A later interview, before the club were relegated again, saw Ashley admit he regretted getting into football.

There was light at the end of the tunnel, for both Ashley and the Magpies fans who were desperate to see him leave, in 2020, when a consortium including the Saudi Public Investment Fund took official steps to take over the club. But a few months later, they pulled out, citing delays from the Premier League regarding their owners’ and directors’ test.

Ashley then commended legal action against the Premier League and in October 2021, a £300m deal to sell the club to a consortium involving PCP Capital Partners, RB Sports & Media and the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia was confirmed.

Ashley and Rangers

Ashley has also owned a stake in Glasgow giants Rangers, and attempted to increase his 8.92 per cent share to almost 30 per cent in 2014 – before it was blocked by the Scottish FA, who feared a conflict of interest with his Newcastle ownership.

Rangers fans protested plans by Ashley to loan the club £10m, using the club’s Ibrox stadium as collateral, and he sold his shares in Rangers in 2017.

Derby County interest

Ashley wanted to get back into football by taking over crisis club Derby, before American businessman Chris Kirchner was given exclusivity to thrash out a deal to take the relegated club out of administration.

But his experiences haven’t seemingly dampened his appetite to work in football – and could United be his next acquisition?