JD Sports has emerged as a serious contender to rescue Debenhams, in a potential takeover that would significantly escalate its high street rivalry with Mike Ashley.
The company is understood to be examining Debenhams’ finances in a secure data room, having been granted increased access in the last fortnight.
A surprise rescue by JD Sports would intensify the long-running retail duel between its chairman Peter Cowgill and Mike Ashley, who controls Sports Direct and the department store House of Fraser.
Mr Ashley has also pursued Debenhams, which declared itself insolvent for the second time in a year in April. City sources said he remains close to the sale process, which is being managed by bankers at Lazard and the insolvency firm FRP Advisory, but this weekend momentum was behind JD Sports.