Canaries could pile more pressure on Ashley as takeover talk dominates on Tyneside
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An intriguing atmosphere awaits Norwich City when they head to Newcastle this weekend, with the Magpies at the centre of fevered speculation about the reign of unpopular owner Mike Ashley potentially coming to an end.
After months of private negotiations, it's become public knowledge in the past week that Ashley is in talks over a reported £340million takeover deal with a consortium from Saudi Arabia.
News of those talks with the wealthy state's Public Investment Fund has led to Newcastle supporter groups joining forces to urge Ashley to end a "toxic relationship" and sell up.
That's despite currently sitting 14th on 30 points with 14 games remaining, with survival looking likely after an upturn in league form, drawing 1-1 at Wolves and 2-2 at Everton, either side of a 1-0 home win over Chelsea.
That's 13 points better off than promoted Norwich, with only six teams having a better home record in the Premier League this season and on the back of a net spend of around £27m last summer - including the club record £40m signing of striker Joelinton.
The breakdown in relationship runs far deeper though, stretching back to the Sports Direct chief's £134m takeover in 2007, after the club had been competing at the top end of the top flight during the early years of the new millennium under Sir Bobby Robson - reaching the Champions League semi-finals in 2004.
His first season ended in 13th place, with Sam Allardyce replaced by legendary former boss Kevin Keegan. However, 2008-09 ended in the north-east club heading to the second tier for the first time since 1992.
That happened amid a host of off-field changes which saw Keegan's return last just nine months, with former Wimbledon boss Joe Kinnear a shock arrival, before club legend Alan Shearer was unable to inspire an escape from relegation.
Bouncing back straight away as Championship title winners under Chris Hughton turned the tide and then Alan Pardew led the Magpies to 12th and fifth, after the future Norwich boss was unceremoniously dumped less than six months after promotion.
Accusations of mismanagement and a lack of investment still rumbled on though and it was back to the Championship in 2016, with former Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez succeeding Steve McClaren, but too late to salvage the season.
Benitez stuck around and again Newcastle bounced back as champions relatively comfortably in 2017, yet after grinding their was to successive mid-table finishes, Benitez walked last summer due to frustrations at an apparent lack of ambition.
The disagreements run deeper than that and have been more widespread, but it's been clear supporters want Ashley out for several years, with several protest movements making headlines.
Ahead of Saturday's game a collective of supporters' groups, including the Magpie Group and Toon For Change, have released a statement which says: "Tony Jimenez, who was reportedly appointed by Mike Ashley in January 2008 to sell Newcastle United, once said: 'Mike wanted me to sell the club on the basis of my relationships with the Middle East. If he had played his cards right, Mike could have sold Newcastle to Abu Dhabi before they bought Manchester City'.
"Fast forward 12 years that have seen a catalogue of disastrous appointments, staggering mismanagement, commercial and sporting stagnation, baffling decisions and two relegations at a club that was playing Champions League football four years prior to Ashley taking over.
"Now, we understand that one of the wealthiest investment groups in football history has made what has been described as an acceptable bid for Newcastle United."
The statement concludes: "Mike Ashley has long said that he would step aside once there was somebody that could take our club to the next level. Previous takeover attempts have apparently proved to be a waste of his time.
"However, we believe that this time he has a concrete bid, proof of funds is not an issue and there is a willing buyer. If he really does want to sell the club as he has said, he should accept the offer and end this toxic relationship once and for all.
"Ashley should not stand in the way of this once in a lifetime opportunity for our club, our communities and our proud city. It's time for him to take his money and get out of our club."
All of which makes for an interesting time for City to arrive on Tyneside, with plenty of supporters and pundits also questioning a sale to a group so closely tied to Saudi Arabia's royal family, due to the state's notorious human rights failings, previously labelled as an "appalling record" by Amnesty International.
Yet with the Canaries six points from safety, Daniel Farke's players will be desperately hoping they can pile more pressure on Ashley, to both keep the Magpies in the survival race and give their own hopes of staying in the Premier League a huge boost.
City won the first meeting of the two sides back in August, when Teemu Pukki's hat-trick earned a fully deserved 3-1 win. However, the Magpies have improved since the early days of Steve Bruce's reign, losing just three of their 12 home games.