Newcastle look set to kick off the new season on Saturday with their future ownership - and the identity of their manager - still up in the air.

Those close to current owner Mike Ashley are playing down the chances of a deal being struck with local businessman Barry Moat. However, sources in the City believe it is still possible a takeover will go through over the next few days.

One City source said: "It is all in ferment at the moment and it could go either way."

The sale is being handled by Keith Harris of investment bank Seymour Pierce, who has helped in the takeovers of several clubs, and although Ashley is prepared to listen to offers lower than his original £100million asking price, so far no one has come close to making an acceptable offer.

Moat's valuation of the club is way below that figure and there is a wide gap to be breached if any deal is to go through.

The club's large wage bill continues to be a major deterrent, though the departures of Obafemi Martins and Sebastien Bassong will have trimmed some of the outlay.

A takeover by Moat would almost certainly lead to Alan Shearer being re-appointed as manager but he will work as a BBC pundit on Saturday covering Newcastle's match against West Brom. Caretaker manager Chris Hughton will continue in charge of team affairs.

Alan Smith has been appointed as skipper in Nicky Butt's absence for Saturday's game. The uncertainty surrounding the takeover has reached such a peak that a Government minister has called for Ashley to sell up as soon as possible.

North East minister Nick Brown told the Newcastle Journal: "Mike Ashley hasn't made a go of it.

"He should call it a day, sell up to somebody who can make a go of it and who has sufficient money to give it a decent go this year and have an exciting campaign to get back in the Premiership where we belong. Every day that goes by makes this harder. The uncertainty is damaging the club."

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Topics:
West Bromwich Albion
Football
Championship
Alan Smith
Premier League
Alan Shearer
Obafemi Martins
Nicky Butt
Sebastien Bassong