MIKE ASHLEY claims talks to sell Newcastle United are at a “more progressed stage” than ever, and is hoping to have relinquished control of the club by the end of the year.

Ashley has been in talks with a number of interested parties in the last few months, having reiterated his desire to sell his 100 per cent stake in the Magpies in the summer.

There has been especially strong interest from the United States, with former Manchester United chief executive Peter Kenyon having been working with the New York-based company, Rockefeller Management, in an attempt to put together a consortium capable of buying Newcastle.

Ashley’s representatives have previously held talks with companies based in China and the Middle East, and the sportswear magnate called off discussions with financier Amanda Staveley last December when he felt there was no chance of agreeing a sale.

He has been holding out for more than £300m, and has always insisted he will only sell to a buyer capable of investing to take Newcastle forward, and it appears as though the latest round of discussions has resulted in something of a breakthrough.

Speaking on Sky News, Ashley, who has been the subject of ongoing supporters’ protests, said: “I am hopeful – for the Newcastle fans, for the club, for everybody, that I will be able to step aside, and we will be able to get an owner in that will please everybody. I’d like it to be before the January transfer window.”

That timescale appears extremely ambitious, with Staveley still the only person to have carried out a formal process of due diligence on Newcastle’s accounts, but when asked whether a deal before the end of the year was realistic, Ashley replied: “Realistic? It’s possible. Realistic is maybe too strong a word.

“Hopefully, we can carry on the good form – the just recent good form – and we can get the deal done.”

Ashley’s sudden reappearance at Newcastle’s matches this season has sparked speculation that his attempts to sell the club had entered a new phase.

The Sports Direct owner went more than a year without attending a Newcastle game before making a surprise appearance in the directors’ box at Selhurst Park during September’s goalless draw with Selhurst Park.

He attended the Magpies’ following six games, and took Rafael Benitez and his squad to an Italian restaurant in Ponteland, where it is claimed he said he did not expect to sell up until at least the end of the season.

That situation now appears to have changed, with Ashley claiming ongoing talks have reached a more advanced stage than the position he reached with Staveley and her PCP Capital backers.

When asked on Sky News whether he was in exclusive talks with an interested party, he replied: “Not exclusive. But talks are at a more progressed stage than they have ever been. I’m very keen to sell it to the right buyer so that everybody’s happy. That would be good news.”

Ashley’s comments have been greeted with a large degree of scepticism amongst the Newcastle support, who have seen a succession of reported takeover opportunities come to nothing.

The Magpie Group, an umbrella group of supporters’ organisations, organised an 11th-minute walk-in during Saturday’s 3-0 defeat to West Ham, marking the 11 years that Ashley has been in charge at St James’ Park, and are calling for a complete boycott of Sunday’s televised home game with Wolves.