• 'SportsDirect News wishes to express its sincere apologies'
• Rooney article 'published without authority … and is untrue'
The website of Sports Direct, the retail company owned by the Newcastle United owner, Mike Ashley, has apologised for publishing a story suggesting that the club were trying to sign Wayne Rooney from Manchester United, admitting that it was untrue.
The striker, who was targeted by Newcastle before he moved to United from Everton in 2004, is contemplating a transfer from Old Trafford, with Sir Alex Ferguson claiming after his final home game in charge that the forward has asked to leave the club. A number of clubs have been linked with Rooney and Sports Direct claimed that Newcastle were in the hunt.
The original story, which has been removed from the site, read: "Newcastle United are preparing a shock bid for want-away Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney. SportsDirect News has learned the Magpies have already sounded out Rooney's agent over a potential move, with United keen to offload the 27-year-old.
"Rooney is seen as a perfect candidate to boost the Magpies' chances of a top-four tilt next season – and is seen as a man who will be hero-worshipped at St James' Park."
The article, which has appeared on the company's website, also quoted a source "close to negotiations" who said: "Newcastle see Wayne as their ideal player. He's a strong centre-forward, would relate to the fans and would be a massive boost to the club's brand name. Low-level conversations have already been held between Newcastle and Rooney's agent, though the two clubs haven't spoken directly yet."
Sceptics were quick to argue that the story was intended to increase the number of hits on the Sports Direct website in a blatant publicity stunt, and the company later published a retraction.
It read: "SportsDirect News wishes to express its sincere apologies to Wayne Rooney and Triple Sports and Entertainment Group for publishing the article 'Newcastle in shock Rooney bid', which was formulated and published without authority, merit and is untrue."
Ashley rebranded St James' Park the Sports Direct Arena in November 2011 but the stadium returned to its original name last year.