Sports Direct in running for Umbro

Sports DirectMike Ashley's Sports Direct business has emerged as the frontrunner to land Umbro, the football kit maker put up for sale by Nike last week.

The discount sportswear chain, which is controlled by Newcastle United owner Mr Ashley, owned a 30% stake in the Cheadle-based business before Nike took it private in a £285 million takeover in 2007.
The report in the Sunday Times said that as well as Sports Direct there is expected to be interest from private equity firms, although a return to the stock market is unlikely due to volatile conditions.

The American sportswear giant said last week that it wanted to offload Umbro and Cole Haan, a leather goods company, to increase its focus on its core brand and on faster-growing labels such as Converse.

Umbro, which was founded in 1924, has worked with the Football Association since 1984. As well as providing all playing and training kit for various England teams, it supplies the Ireland national team and Premier League champions Manchester City.

The business achieved annual revenues of 224 million US dollars (£146 million) last year, but this is down on the level seen in 2006 prior to the takeover by Nike. In 2009, the US company wrote down the value of its investment in Umbro by 240 million US dollars (£156 million).

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