WITH Mike Ashley having broken his public silence to confirm his desire to sell Newcastle United, vice-president Tony Jimenez was last night in Dubai setting up a meeting with representatives of billionaire group Dubai International Capital (DIC).

DIC, the investment arm of the Dubai Government, has been in discussions over a possible takeover of Liverpool for much of the last 18 months.

But with Anfield co-owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks no nearer to resolving the impasse that is preventing the sale of their club, Newcastle officials are confident of brokering a deal that will see one of the richest companies in the Middle East assume ownership of the Magpies.

DIC’s determination to complete the purchase of a Premier League football club has intensified since the Abu Dhabi United Group (ADUG) completed their takeover of Manchester City at the end of last month.

Dubai and Abu Dhabi are locked in an increasingly heated battle for global prominence, and having seen their rivals make worldwide headlines through their deadlineday purchase of Robinho, Dubai’s rulers are desperate to join the burgeoning ranks of overseas Premier League owners.

They remain keen to purchase Liverpool, and there is a danger that last night’s discussions may have been arranged in order to pile pressure on Gillett and Hicks as they continue to clash over the future direction of their club.

But Jimenez’s weekend dash to the Middle East confirms Newcastle’s confidence that DIC are viable suitors, and with Ashley willing to sell for less than £300m, it is hoped that a formal offer may be lodged within the next week.

Ironically, last night’s talks came less than a month after Ashley rebuffed ADUG’s interest via an intermediary, forcing the Abu Dhabi group to turn their attentions towards Manchester City.

While DIC’s interest in Newcastle is strong enough to have persuaded Ashley to dispatch Jimenez to Dubai, the consortium is far from the only group to have contacted the sportswear magnate in recent days.

Reliance Communications have also made a number of discreet inquiries, despite a spokesman for the Indian mobile communications group releasing a statement on Friday that seemed to suggest their interest in the club was at an end.

Reliance, which is owned by Anil Ambani, the sixth-richest man in the world, have been linked with a possible takeover of Everton after weekend claims that the ongoing turbulence at Newcastle had forced the Mumbaibased group to look elsewhere.

However, senior city sources have claimed that the conflicting messages coming out of India are part of a bargaining ploy to force Ashley to reduce his asking price, and it is understood that Reliance are still extremely keen to purchase Newcastle United.

Ambani has been looking to gain a foothold in the European market for a number of years, and a takeover of Newcastle would provide him with a considerable boost to both his status and profile Chinese businessman Xu Rongmao is also spearheading another consortium currently eyeing the club.

Rongmao, who is one of only ten confirmed Chinese billionaires, is the founder and chairman of Shimao Property, one of the largest property development groups in Shanghai.

He has amassed a considerable fortune from purchasing a range of building groups in China, but is known to be keen to broaden his geographical horizons by buying up business interests that boast a significant real estate value in the west.

Former Newcastle chairman Freddy Shepherd unveiled plans to develop the land around St James’ Park into a hotel and casino complex before he was ousted by Ashley, and Rongmao would have similarly ambitious plans if he was complete his own takeover on Tyneside.

Over the weekend, there were also suggestions that a North-Eastern consortium was looking to buy out Ashley with the help of supporters.

However, while a number of wealthy North-Easterners have been sounded out about a potential takeover, any formal grouping remains at an embryonic stage.

As the number of Premier League clubs willing to countenance a takeover has diminished rapidly, Newcastle have become more and more appealing to investors.

But by admitting that the club is still not debt-free despite an investment of more than £110m, Ashley last night sounded a warning note to anyone interested in securing a takeover.

“I paid £134m out of my own pocket for the club,” he said. “I then poured another £110m into the club, not to pay off the debt but just to reduce it. The club is still in debt.

“Even worse than that, the club still owes millions of pounds in transfer fees. I shall be paying out many more millions over the coming year to pay for players bought before I arrived.

“But there was a double whammy. Commercial deals such as sponsorships and advertising had been frontloaded.

The money had been paid up front and spent. I was left with a club that owed millions and part of whose future had been mortgaged.

“Unless I had come into the club then it might not have survived.”

The chances now of a new manager being appointed ahead of Saturday’s away game with West Ham appear remote.

Friday night’s meeting with Kevin Keegan was an attempt to initiate a rapprochement that might ultimately have ended with the two-time Newcastle boss embarking on a third managerial reign at St James’.

However, talks broke down when Ashley refused to acquiesce to Keegan’s demands that both Jimenez and Dennis Wise be stripped of their power to hire and fire players.

In an unrelated development, Alan Shearer is understood to have been stripped of his ambassadorial role at the club.