Mike Ashley's Sports Direct empire has sold the 4.6% stake in Debenhams it acquired less than a week ago – netting a likely profit of some £5m – and ploughed a new investment into a complex option arrangement which could give the sports retailer influence over 6.6% of the department store chain. The sports retailer said on Thursday morning that it had disposed of the near-60m shares it had acquired earlier this week and replaced it with a put option, an instrument that gives the right to take ownership of the shares in future without directly controlling the holding, over a larger stake. It reiterated its intention to be a "supportive shareholder" to Debenhams . It is understood that Sports Direct's management team is keen to meet Debenhams boss Michael Sharp in the next few weeks to discuss potential ways the two businesses could work together. Ashley has plans to put celebrity-led sports ranges into Debenhams' shops, according to a Financial Times report. " Sports Direct wishes to explore options at an operational level to work together with Debenhams and is looking forward to meeting with Debenhams' senior management team in the near future," the company said in its statement. The company said that its "maximum exposure" in the option deal is worth about £64m and gives Ashley influence over the Debenhams shares for at least a year. Sports Direct revealed it had bought almost 5% of Debenhams on Monday. Ashley, who has a history of taking stakes in companies under stress in a bid to influence the business, pounced with Debenhams at a low ebb. Debenhams shares plunged on New Year's Eve , wiping £125m off the value of the company after it warned that dire Christmas trading meant its half-yearly profits would be more than 25% lower than in the same period last year. Sharp faces a tricky meeting with Ashley as he is under pressure from shareholders after admitting that sales had been hit by aggressive discounting in the runup to Christmas. .
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