It’s 2020 and its Newcastle United so I think we are already through the looking glass but a strange announcement from the Shields Gazette that nods and winks from Michael Chopra’s twitter account actually had some connection to a bid for the club is surely another surreal episode in these strangest of days – click here 

I’m not the only one to have scratched my head at this story. With all due respect to Michael Chopra, a player who had barely a walk-on part as a first team player for the club (though admittedly that 4-1 away at the Mackems in 2006 was a memorable day out), I’d wonder at the logic of having him fronting any deal worth c£300m.

We know Chopra is a local lad and he is unquestionably a supporter but is that enough? Chopra is barely known outside those clubs he performed for and his reported gambling problems further question his suitability to be involved in such a transaction, even if it is only on the PR part. How he has become connected to the supposed buyers – Bellagraph Nova Groupclick here is unknown as is his qualification to be associated in high finance.  

That the news was broken by the Shields Gazette is further baffling given its provincial low profile but that is no disrespect to Miles Starforth who has reported on United for many years and isn’t part of the click-bait cabal increasingly common in his industry. That he stood the story up does give it some credibility in my opinion.

Weirdly, in these days when so much of the media cuts, pastes and cannibalises content very few in the football press have picked up on the tale. That’s strange given a reported statement that  a letter of intent has been sent to Ashley and a willingness to deposit £250K to gain access to the data room in a bid to commence due diligence with the associated proof of funds reported to have been provided. As ever, there appears to have been no comment from United but then again, I’m not sure if anyone in the media has even bothered contacting them.

Confession time but I’d never heard of the Bellagraph Novagroup but according to their website they claim to have revenues of $12Bn or £9Bn. None of that appears to have been checked out by anyone in the media that you’d place any reliability upon however. Anyone can say they have anything but that needs checking out, despite a photo opp with Barack Obama taking pride of place on their website.

I’ve had a look at their website and to be honest it reads more like an advert for a spiritual retreat in a former stately home in the Welsh countryside for cocaine casualties of the rich and famous rather than a conglomerate dedicated to the accumulation of lots of money. It could be my galloping, middle-aged Mag cynicism but that site (c) 2020 may just have been set up to hook a bit of media interest.

Their presence on the internet appears to be limited with few recognisable or established publications having much to say about them, if anything at all. I’ll happily be corrected on that but the majority of references to them appears within the last 48 hours and in connection with Newcastle United.

Anything can happen with Newcastle United (though seldom anything good) of course but I’d advise a healthy amount of scepticism about this.

Then there is the apparent Henri Mauriss bid (why is it I can’t say this bloke’s name without getting that terrible ear-worm Steve Miller Band The Joker out of my nut – some people call me Maurice – geddit? Suit yourself).

Although Ashley appears to have given this bid some house room, to the humble outsider it has never stacked up. It was reported Mauriss made his interest in United known after Ashley had accepted a bid from the Staveley consortium.

That’s your first question – why wait until then?  Then your second raised eye-brow moment is that Mauriss has made a bid of £350m when Ashley has already accepted an offer for £50m less than that price. Now the reporting is Mauriss cannot raise that £300m to match Staveley & Co so you have to wonder what kind of ownership of the club he would provide if he doesn’t have the money to buy it. Some half decent journalists have tried to assess Mauriss’ financial strength and come up short. That doesn’t raise questions for me, it sets off very loud alarm bells.

Then of course there is the curious connection between Ashley’s world represented via Chris Ronnie a former business associate – who would likely fail an Owners & Directors Test himself as he’s banned in the UK from being a director – and Mauriss, the owner of Clear TV in the US.

If you think none of the Mauriss deal smells right then I suggest there’s nothing wrong with your nose and I’d expect Ashley to pull the plug on this apparent bid by the end of the month at the latest – that’s just my guess-work.

So, where does this leave us?

From where I’m sitting, it means the bid, perhaps withdrawn by the Staveley consortium is the only chance to see Ashley removed from Newcastle United. The other two look like PR stunts.

In my opinion, if that bid does not go through then Ashley will continue as owner of the club. I don’t believe any of the other supposed offers are viable.

I don’t think I’m being unduly negative here but given Ashley will fund very little in the way of recruitment this close season then 2020/21 is likely to be another grim battle to stay in the Premier League. It is likely to remain that way until the club is sold. That is an eye-bleeding statement of the obvious. 

Bruce-ball is uninspiring, few of us are looking forward to the start of a new season which promises more thin gruel on Gallowgate or perhaps even worse.

Newcastle United has to be sold – the future is bleak without new owners. We all know that truth. 

Keep On, Keepin’ On …

MICHAEL MARTIN