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Derby Direct?

Derby Direct?

Former Newcastle owner Mike ‘SportsDirect’ Ashley is said to be preparing a £50m offer to buy Derby County. Will it be a bargain, or bust?


Transcript

Hi, I’m Chloe and this is the Playmaker. 

One story every day to make sense of the world of football.

Today… the return of Mike Ashley?

***

Derby County’s financial woes have been talked about at length in the press. 

Their former owner Mel Morris, the so-called Candy Crush King, plunged the club into crisis. 

And when Derby went into administration earlier this season, they received a 21 point deduction from the EFL.

“The EFL say they’ve had initial constructive discussions with the administrators who say their main priority is completing the season in the Championship. Administrators have also urged any interested parties to come forward if they want to buy the club.” 

Sky Sports

Despite it all, Derby boss Wayne Rooney has managed to keep the team going while the club has fallen down around him. 

Yes, his side sit bottom of the league with 11 points, but if you add the 21 deducted, they’d be comfortably in mid-table.

But they’re still 11 points away from safety. And unless Derby find a buyer, the future of the club is uncertain. 

That is, until earlier this week, a familiar, if not surprising name, entered the fold. 

“How about this…former Newcastle owner Mike Ashley is preparing a formal 50 million pound offer to buy Derby County. Ashley has been in advanced talks with Derby’s administrators in the last 48 hours. His bid would be the largest received so far. If successful, Ashley is expected to attempt to purchase Derby’s Pride Park stadium from the owner Mel Morris.” 

Sky Sports

Mike Ashley. 

Mike Ashley bought a different team, Newcastle, in 2007. 

At the time, he’d made his money as owner of Sports Direct. He’s a controversial figure – his use of zero-hours contracts, for example. 

In 2018, he bought the House of Fraser department store after it had gone into administration. 

And at Newcastle, although initially he was keen to be seen as “one of the lads” – buying rounds of pints in city centre pubs – he was famously shy with the press. He didn’t give a single interview until 2015.

“Mike Ashley has owned Newcastle for eight years. He’s never done an interview. Until now.”

Sky Sports

It wasn’t long before he’d angered the fans – first by getting rid of club legend Kevin Keegan, who successfully sued for constructive dismissal. 

That was the first time Mike Ashley put the club up for sale. 

Slowly but surely, he continued to alienate the fans – and other club legends like Alan Shearer – with his lack of communication with fans and his strict budget. 

Newcastle were relegated to the Championship twice under Mike Ashley’s reign.

“In theory I’m a whatever billionaire, maybe a multi-billionaire, but in reality my wealth is in Sports Direct shares that I said the other week are the same as wallpaper. I don’t have that cash in the bank. So I don’t have that ability to write a cheque for 200 million. I don’t have it. It’s very simple, it’s not there. 

“I am nowhere near wealthy enough to in football now to compete with the likes of Man City etcetera…not just Man City but basically it’s a wealthy individual taking on what is the equivalent of countries. I cannot…I cannot and I will not.” 

Sky Sports

But Derby are in a desperate situation. 

Their fans may welcome someone who runs a well-organised, but tight, operation.

Derby need someone who is ready for a fight. 

Unless they pay every penny of what they owe, they face another points deduction next season. If they don’t, they could start life in League One on minus 15. 

And Mike Ashley may have been accused of many things, but shying away from a financial dogfight isn’t one of them. 

His entire business model relies on buying up distressed assets, straightening them out, and then turning a profit…like with his purchase of House of Fraser, Game Digital and the DW Sports chain.

If he does take over, then eventually, Derby fans might get tired of him in the long run. Just like Newcastle fans did. 

But at least they’ll have a football club to support. 

Perhaps beggars can’t be choosers.

Today’s story was written by Chloe Beresford, and produced by Imy Harper.