BILLIONAIRE Mike Ashley is in advanced talks with Rangers chief executive Charles Green about buying a stake of up to 10% in the club and forming a joint venture to sell its replica kit through his Sports Direct stores.
Sources told The Herald last night that a deal between Newcastle United owner Mr Ashley and Mr Green is expected to be completed within days.
Mr Green has been pressed repeatedly by Rangers fans to reveal details of his plans for financing the club's ongoing operations.
Mr Ashley, pictured, a controversial retail tycoon who has had a rollercoaster relationship with the City and Newcastle United fans, has deep pockets. His near-69% stake in Sports Direct, which has defied the economic downturn – as rivals including JJB Sports have struggled – is worth more than £1.2 billion.
Mr Green led a consortium that paid £5.5 million to buy the assets of Rangers – who last night beat East Fife 4-0 in the first round of the Scottish Communities League Cup – from liquidation in June.
One source said the price of a 10% stake in Rangers would be "like chicken feed" to Mr Ashley. In 2006, when Rangers was owned by Sir David Murray, JJB signed a £48 million deal to sell the Old Firm club's merchandise on an exclusive basis over the next 10 years.
Sources yesterday highlighted a belief that this contract would have lapsed with Rangers' fall into liquidation, ahead of Mr Green's purchase of its assets.
A spokesman for Mr Ashley refused to comment on his deal to buy into Rangers and a club spokesman said: "It is speculation and we will not comment on commercial matters."
But a source said: "Talks are at an advanced
stage and the deal should be signed in the next few days."
Sports Direct has been faring significantly better than JJB Sports in the cut-throat retail sector. The £1.7bn stock market worth of Sports Direct eclipses the £22m valuation of JJB.
A source familiar with Mr Ashley told The Herald: "Mike has a great business. He certainly knows what he is doing on the merchandising, on the logistics front, that is for sure. Mike will want to get JJB out of the way and pick up the merchandise. It gets him a seat at the table."
A spokesman for JJB Sports said: "We continue to work with the Rangers owners."