By Will Smale
Business reporter, BBC News
It is not yet known whether Mr Shepherd will sell his 28.1% stake
As billionaire businessman Mike Ashley launches a £133.1m takeover offer for Newcastle United, whether his bid succeeds or fails lies in the hands of one man - Freddie Shepherd.
Mr Shepherd, Newcastle's infamously blunt chairman, owns a 28.1% stake in the club - enough to block Mr Ashley's bid for full ownership.
And with Mr Shepherd yet to declare his intention, it remains far from certain whether he will agree to sell up.
Mr Shepherd could simply refuse to budge, meaning that while Mr Ashley will probably be able to gain majority control, he would not be totally in charge, and Mr Shepherd would remain a major player at the club.
Amid reports that Mr Shepherd was in hospital yesterday recovering from pneumonia when he first heard the news of Mr Ashley's shock bid, the Newcastle supremo's recent comments on the possibility of a takeover have been somewhat contradictory.
Last week, Mr Shepherd - who takes a salary of more than £500,000 a year from Newcastle - claimed that the club was "impossible to buy", yet he has also said he would be happy to sell to a "Geordie Abramovich".
This is, of course, a reference to the nickname of people from Newcastle and Chelsea's Russian owner Roman Abramovich, who is worth an estimated £15.7bn.
And while Buckinghamshire-based Mike Ashley is not a Geordie, he is a billionaire, albeit with a fortune of just £1.7bn.
Harry Philp, managing director of Hermes Sports Partners financial advisers, believes that despite any vocal indignation, Mr Shepherd will eventually have to sell up to Mr Ashley.
"I don't think Shepherd will sell his shares willingly, but I also don't think he has got a choice in the end," says Mr Philp.
"Otherwise he may end up sitting there with a minority stake that no-one else wants to buy."
Spate of takeovers
But with apparently little previous interest in football, let alone Newcastle United, why has Mr Ashley paid more than £55m for a 41.6% stake in the club from Sir John Hall, with plans to go on and buy it all for £133.1m?
Mike Ashley was not thought to have much interest in football
Mainly because Newcastle United represents a great investment, says City analyst Richard Hunter of Hargreaves Lansdown.
"The recent re-negotiation of overseas TV rights, along with potential
merchandising forays into other countries, has meant that the larger clubs have become seen as potential cash cows," he says.
This has led to a spate of takeover activity in recent years, with billionaire investors, mostly from overseas, swooping for everyone from Manchester United to Liverpool, Aston Villa to West Ham.
And while Newcastle may not have won any silverware since 1969, and its form has languished in recent years, the club is one of the best supported and most lucrative in the Premiership, despite it making a loss last year.
With sell-out crowds of more than 50,000 at every home game, and fans determined to kit themselves out in the club's famous black and white strips, Newcastle is Europe's 13th wealthiest club by annual revenues.
Other analysts point to the three-way synergy that buying Newcastle would give Mr Ashley.
His company Sports Direct is one of the UK's biggest sellers of football tops, and earlier this year Mr Ashley bought a 3% stake in Newcastle's kit-maker, German sportswear giant Adidas.
Newcastle has high hopes under new manager Sam Allardyce
And a more successful Newcastle under new manager Sam Allardyce would mean yet more sales of the Magpies' black and white strips.
Yet whether Mr Ashley gains full control of the reigns remains with Mr Shepherd.
And with analysts blaming Mr Shepherd's refusal to budge for the failure of two possible bid approaches earlier this year, from investment fund Belgravia and hedge fund Polygon, Mr Ashley may have some persuading to do.