Benitez and Ashley poised for talks

Rafael Benitez is due to meet Newcastle owner Mike Ashley over the next 48 hours in a bid to decide on his future.

Press Association Sport understands Benitez will sit down with Ashley and managing director Lee Charnley in London as the two parties attempt to agree a contract extension for the man who has guided the Magpies back to the Premier League and kept them there for two seasons.

There was no comment from Newcastle on the talks on Thursday with officials keen for negotiations to be conducted away from the public gaze.

Newcastle United v Liverpool – Premier League – St James’ Park

Rafael Benitez is set for talks with Mike Ashley (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Benitez, who has the vocal backing of the club’s fans, has indicated his willingness to stay – but only if the club shares his vision for the way forward.

For their part, the Magpies are keen to retain the services of a man who has enhanced an already impressive reputation during his time to date on Tyneside, but while they do not currently have a Plan B, they will not break the bank to do so.

It remains to be seen how far the gap between what the 59-year-old Spaniard wants and what the club are prepared to give him can be closed, although the debate is about far more than money.

Tottenham Hotspur v Newcastle United – Premier League – Wembley Stadium

Mike Ashley, left, and Lee Charnley will sit down with the manager (Steven Paston/PA)

Benitez, whose £6million annual salary is more than competitive, is more concerned about the financial support he would like to fund a long-term project, although his plan to invest in the club’s training ground and Academy is not viewed as the immediate priority by the hierarchy.

He is keen to to be able to compete on a more equal basis in the transfer market in terms of both fees and wages to allow him to target regular top-10 finishes rather than simply fighting for survival each year.

Ashley’s decision to sanction a January swoop for Paraguay international Miguel Almiron in a deal which could eventually amount to a club record £21million suggested Benitez’s pleas were being heard, and it has since emerged that he can expect around £100million, plus whatever he can generate, to spend over the next two transfer windows.

Newcastle United v Southampton – Premier League – St James’ Park

Miguel Almiron could cost Newcastle £21million (Richard Sellers/PA)

However, the manager will also seek concessions on the profile of players he is allowed to sign with the club keen to concentrate on signings with a future sell-on value, a stipulation which hampered his attempts to land then 28-year-old striker Salomon Rondon last summer before a loan deal was struck.

Ashley was at the final game of the season, Sunday’s 4-0 win at Fulham, and visited the dressing room afterwards to congratulate the manager and his team. However, it remains his intention to sell the club having freely admitted he cannot afford to fund its progression to the next level.

But with no sale imminent, he must decide if he can provide sufficient backing to keep Benitez, who has been linked with Paris St Germain, Marseille and Celtic in recent weeks, in the post.

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