MIKE ASHLEY is considering his options after a Chinese consortium made a formal attempt to invest in Newcastle United.

There has been mounting international interest in the Magpies in the wake of last season’s  promotion from the Championship, and a Chinese business group has been in touch with senior Newcastle officials to outline their interest in a potential investment in the club.

Their interest has not gone any further at this stage, and they have not begun the process of forensically examining the Magpies’ books, but Ashley is understood to be willing to enter serious discussions about his options.

The Newcastle owner could opt to sell his 100 per cent stake in the club, having previously made a series of unsuccessful attempts to sell up and move on. Alternatively, he could look to offload some of his shares to outside investors as a first stage in a longer-term process of eventually severing his ties with the Magpies.

While previous suggestions of a possible takeover have been rapidly dismissed, it is telling that Newcastle sources have not talked down yesterday’s developments. The Chinese consortium that has expressed an interest remains unnamed, but is regarded as a serious player with sufficient funds to be a credible investment proposition.

Ashley has effectively put Newcastle on the market on two previous occasions during his tenure, but appeared to rule out the prospects of a sale in the medium-to-long term in 2015 when he publicly stated he would not be selling until the club had won a major trophy or qualified for the Champions League.

However, his stance appears to have shifted, with Newcastle’s return to the Premier League making them a much more attractive proposition to wealthy investment vehicles in the Far East.

Ashley paid £134m to buy Newcastle in 2007, and has subsequently increased his financial input via a series of interest-free loans. The most recent of those loans saw him inject £33m last season to ensure Newcastle’s financial viability in the Championship, and the Magpies’ most recent accounts revealed that the club owes Ashley £129m in unpaid loans.

If Ashley was to sell outright, that debt would have to be repaid by any new owners, on top of the sum that was agreed for the sale of the club. At this stage, however, an investment at a lower level of shareholding is regarded as more likely.

Ashley will reach the tenth anniversary of his involvement at St James’ Park later this week, and while his reign has been littered with controversies and rows that have made him deeply unpopular in the eyes of many Newcastle fans, he partially repaired his reputation as he supported Rafael Benitez during last season’s campaign in the Championship.

Benitez, who is aware of the ongoing talks, is keen to make a series of summer signings as he prepares for next season’s return to the Premier League, but it remains to be seen whether the current discussions will have any impact on Newcastle’s actions in the transfer market in the next few weeks.

Chinese investors have become increasingly influential within the English game in the last couple of seasons. There are Chinese owners at West Brom, Aston Villa, Birmingham City and Wolves, while the Chinese consortium CMC recently acquired a 13 per cent stake in Manchester City.

A Chinese group also expressed an interest in buying Middlesbrough last season, only for Boro chairman Steve Gibson to rule out the possibility of such a sale.