MIKE ASHLEY will challenge American businessman Henry Mauriss to ‘put up or shut up’ in the wake of the collapse of Amanda Staveley’s proposed takeover of Newcastle United.

Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners group formally withdrew their £300m bid to take control at St James’ Park yesterday, issuing a statement in conjunction with their financial backers, the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund and property developers Simon and David Reuben, confirming their decision to bring the takeover process to an end.

Staveley’s group are furious at the amount of time it has taken the Premier League to conduct its owners and directors’ test into their proposed buyout, and have also cited the ongoing uncertainty caused by the coronavirus as another factor behind their decision to withdraw their bid.

The Premier League began the process of ratifying Staveley’s takeover in April, but became bogged down in wrangling over broadcasting piracy within Saudi Arabia and allegations of human rights abuses carried out by the Saudi regime.

Yesterday’s developments mean Ashley’s attempts to sell up are back to square one, with the sportswear magnate having now been involved in two unsuccessful sets of negotiations involving Staveley.

He remains keen to offload Newcastle though, and will inform Mauriss there is now a window of opportunity for the American to table an acceptable offer of his own.

Suggestions that Mauriss was interested in buying the Magpies first began to emerge at the turn of the year, and parties claiming to be close to the American, who is the CEO of media company Clear TV, claim he is willing top pay £350m for the club.

He is known to have established a channel of communication to Ashley and his associate, Justin Barnes, but there has always been a large amount of scepticism about his ability to fund and pull off a deal.

Ashley does not want to become embroiled in another long-running saga, so will challenge Mauriss to clarify his intentions and provide proof of funds as quickly as possible. Ideally, the Sports Direct boss would like to have relinquished ownership of Newcastle by the start of next season, but such a timeframe is now all-but-impossible given that the new campaign is due to begin on September 12.

Ashley is not believed to have had any prior warning about yesterday’s announcement from the Staveley camp, and was therefore caught unaware when news broke in the middle of the afternoon.

“With a deep appreciation for the Newcastle community and the significance of its football club, we have come to the decision to withdraw our interest in acquiring Newcastle United Football Club,” said a statement issued by North Yorkshire financier Staveley and her fellow investors. “We do so with regret, as we were excited and fully committed to invest in the great city of Newcastle and believe we could have returned the club to the position of its history, tradition and fans’ merit.

“Unfortunately, the prolonged process under the current circumstances coupled with global uncertainty has rendered the potential investment no longer commercially viable. To that end, we feel a responsibility to the fans to explain the lack of alternatives from an investment perspective.

“As an autonomous and purely commercial investor, our focus was on building long-term value for the club, its fans and the community as we remained committed to collaboration, practicality and proactivity through a difficult period of global uncertainty and significant challenges for the fans and the club.

“Ultimately, during the unforeseeably prolonged process, the commercial agreement between the Investment Group and the club’s owners expired and our investment thesis could not be sustained, particularly with no clarity as to the circumstances under which the next season will start and the new norms that will arise for matches, training and other activities.

“As often occurs with proposed investments in uncertain periods, time itself became an enemy of the transaction, particularly during this difficult phase marked by the many real challenges facing us all from Covid-19.

“We feel great compassion for the Newcastle United fans with whom we shared a great commitment to help Newcastle United harness its tremendous potential and build upon its impressive and historic legacy while working closely with the local community.

“We would like to say that we truly appreciated your incredible expressions of support and your patience throughout this process.  We are sorry it is not to be. We wish the team and everyone associated with it much good luck and success.”

Staveley’s group were reportedly willing to invest up to £250m in Newcastle’s playing squad, academy, training ground and the wider community, but their attempts to engineer a successful takeover were ultimately scuppered by the Premier League’s intransigence.

The governing body were lobbied by Qatar’s beIN Sport, who are embroiled in a long-running dispute with the Saudi Arabian state over broadcasting piracy. A recent World Trade Organisation report into the issue dealt a damaging blow to Staveley’s group as it effectively accused the Saudi state of being complicit in the illegal broadcasting of Premier League games.

When the Saudi authorities responded by banning beIN Sport from broadcasting within Saudi Arabia earlier this month, the Premier League are understood to have demanded clarity over the dividing lines between the Saudi Arabian representatives who would have been involved in the day-to-day running of Newcastle and the senior government figures at the top of the PIF.

When that clarification was not forthcoming, the takeover process was effectively at an impasse, prompting yesterday’s dramatic collapse.