Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct has acquired a 4.63% in troubled department store group Debenhams.

The Debenhams board was not given prior notice of Sports Direct’s acquisition of 56.8 million shares. It will be seen as an opportunistic manoeuvre by Ashley to gain some influence at Debenhams at a time when the City is calling for a review of the business after dire Christmas trading lead it to issue a profits warning.

The move could also signify a timely vote of confidence in the department store group.

Ashley had been mooted to be eyeing Debenhams rival House of Fraser, which is in talks with French retailer Galeries Lafayette about it taking a stake.

Sports Direct -  which has been snapping up businesses such as USC, Republic and Cruise in the last few years – said it wishes to “explore options at an operational level to work together with Debenhams to create value in the interests of both Sports Direct’s and Debenhams’ shareholders”.

Debenhams said: “Debenhams notes that Sports Direct intends to be a supportive shareholder and that it wishes to explore options at an operational level to work together. Debenhams is open minded with regard to exploring operational opportunities to improve its performance, alongside its own existing and planned initiatives, in order to create value for all Debenhams shareholders.”

On December 31 Debenhams issued a profit warning after heavy discounting over the Christmas period knocked margins.

Mike Ashley's Sports Direct acquires 4.63% stake in Debenhams