IN many respects, nothing has really changed as a result of last night’s statement confirming Newcastle United are officially “up for sale”.

Mike Ashley confirmed his willingness to sell when he broke his media silence to speak to Sky Sports in the summer, at least three Chinese consortiums are known to have signed non-disclosure agreements signalling their interest in tabling an offer, and Amanda Staveley’s appearance at St James’ Park for last month’s game with Liverpool put talk of a Newcastle takeover at the top of the national agenda. This is a club that has been for sale for the best part of a year.

Yet yesterday’s decision to remove any lingering uncertainty about Ashley’s desire to call time on his ten-year ownership of the Magpies is nevertheless significant. It proves once and for all that the sportswear magnate is really serious about selling up – lock, stock and barrel. There was no mention of partial investment or joint-ownership in last night’s statement. Newcastle are “for sale”. After a rollercoaster ride that has featured some remarkable highs and lows, Ashley wants to walk away.

Crucially, he also wants the process completed quickly. When stories emerged last month suggesting he was willing to drop his asking price to around £400m, it felt as though his determination to do a deal had hardened. Ashley has carved out a reputation for being an intransigent negotiator, indeed much of his business model has been built around a refusal to back down. Yet here he was displaying a willingness to give ground, and yesterday’s statement offered further succour to potential investors.

Ashley is willing to allow a buyer to “defer substantial payments” if it makes it easier for them to structure a deal that enables them to make a significant early investment into the playing squad. That suggests a degree of emotional attachment that has not always been apparent, but it also smacks of an increased level of desperation. You don’t offer to throw in the curtains if you’ve got three or four people already willing to pay the asking price for your house.

Ashley’s lawyer, Andrew Henderson, also spoke yesterday, confirming a desire to complete a deal before Christmas and claiming that timeframe would be sufficient for “serious interested parties to put themselves forward”. That choice of words is instructive. Does that mean at least some of the parties to have put their head above the parapet so far are not serious? Or does it mean there is a belief that some groups are still waiting to make their move? Either way, it is clear that Ashley wants to break the current impasse and get things moving as quickly as possible.

The Christmas deadline is an interesting one, because a deal in the next two months would prevent Ashley from having to plan for the January transfer window. He has hinted he will do what is required if the club has not been sold by the turn of the year, but it is hard to imagine him wanting to throw more money at an asset he wants to sell. Instead, he has stated he will do as much as he can to make it easier for another owner to invest in the playing squad.

Is that other owner out there? We should get a good idea in the next few weeks. Perhaps one of the Chinese groups already involved in discussions will now feel compelled to take their interest to the next level? Maybe Staveley will make a move before anyone else does.

Some uncertainty remains, but on one thing there is now complete clarity. Newcastle are for sale. The end game of the Ashley era has officially begun.