SAINTS this afternoon confirmed they have received a preliminary approach from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen regarding a potential takeover of the club.

The Daily Echo carried a story this morning saying Allen, the 19th richest man in the world with an estimated fortune of £18b, was interested in investing.

A statement issued to the Stock Exchange this afternoon said: "The board notes the recent rise in the Company's share price and confirms that it has received and is considering a preliminary approach which may or may not lead to an offer being made for the Company.

"The board's consideration is at an early stage and there is no guarantee that any offer will be forthcoming.

Allen already owns the Seattle Seahawks American football team and the Portland Trail Blazers basketball team.

He still has an interest in Microsoft, who he co-founded with Bill Gates.

A source close to Allen said he "believes there is long term investment value in UK soccer.

The source added: '"Southampton is a sleeping giant, a family-supported club with traditional values, and we see the value in taking the brand global."

Saints have been fruitlessly searching for new investors even since Michael Wilde replaced Rupert Lowe as chairman last summer.

Wilde's failure to attract any new investors, though, was the reason he resigned back in February.

Saints chief executive Jim Hone and PLC chairman Ken Dulieu have been leading the search for new investors since then.

If Allen was successful in acquiring Saints, he would join the ranks of ultra-wealthy American businessmen snapping up English football clubs.

Manchester United are owned by Malcolm Glazer, George Gillett and Tom Hicks completed their takeover at Liverpool earlier this year, and Randy Lerner took over Aston Villa last year.

In addition, Stan Kroenke has bought a large shareholding at Arsenal.

It is reported that any bid from Allen is likely to be at a significant premium to last night's Southampton Leisure Holdings PLC closing price of 47p.

The shares have risen 20% in recent weeks.

There is speculation that an Allen bid could be worth around £50m.

Analysts suggest it may be worth as much as 65p a share to shareholders.

For more see tonight's city edition of the Daily Echo