LONDON: The long-awaited £300m sale of Newcastle has moved closer after an agreement in principle between owner Mike Ashley and a consortium funded by Saudi Arabia.

Ashley, after an initial welcome from some of the most passionate of English fans, has become highly unpopular. However the millionaire owner of the Sports Direct sportswear shops refused to sell without recouping more than double the original £134m he paid for the club in 2007.

Amanda Staveley, a businesswoman who has been involved in a number of Premier club sales, has been the go-between negotiating with Ashley and the Saudis.

The Premier League has been sent details of the potential takeover and have started checks under its owners’ and directors’ test. The lowering of the price from an original offer of £340m reflects the uncertainty sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.  Newcastle’s effective new owner, with an 80pc stake, would be Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.

Newcastle have been relegated from the Premier League twice during Ashley’s controversial 13 years in control. He has faced heavy recent criticism after seeking government subsidies for the wages of the club’s non-playing staff.

The arrival of money from Saudi Arabia promises to be equally controversial because of the country’s human rights record.