Search for Benitez successor hinges on Newcastle takeover talks

Joe Williams

Newcastle’s search for a replacement for manager Rafael Benitez will be dictated by the state of play in Mike Ashley’s efforts to sell the club.

Press Association Sport understands the Magpies’ owner is seeking clarity on the progress being made by interested parties, principally Dubai-based Sheikh Khaled Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, with which his representatives have been holding talks in recent weeks over a potential takeover.

At best, any conclusion appears to be several weeks, if not months away and that could mean appointing a manager on a short-term basis.

But if Ashley decides there is little prospect of a sale going through, he faces a very different scenario.

Agents have wasted little time in putting the names of their clients forward for the vacancy at St James’ Park, which was created on Monday when Ashley finally lost patience after protracted negotiations with the Benitez camp and unilaterally ended the talks.

As a result, the 59-year-old Spaniard will leave the club when his contract expires at midnight on Sunday and the search for a replacement will begin in earnest.

Managing director Lee Charnley has been tasked with drawing up a shortlist, although Newcastle cannot make formal approaches while Benitez remains at the helm.

However, the state of play on the takeover front will determine whether he is looking for a short-term appointment to bridge the gap to a new owner taking up the reins, or someone who is prepared to work under the well-established constraints of the Ashley regime on a longer-term basis should the sportswear magnate remain at the helm.

Those restrictions were brought into sharper focus on Wednesday when it emerged that Crystal Palace full-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka was close to joining Manchester United in a deal worth up to £50million.

That figure is understood to be the entire summer transfer budget, plus whatever he could generate from sales, promised to Benitez during his contract talks with the Magpies.

Big names Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger have already distanced themselves from the vacancy, while former Feyenoord boss Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s representatives have indicated he would be interested.

Burnley’s Sean Dyche, Nice manager Patrick Vieira and Manchester City number two Mikel Arteta are also among the bookmakers’ favourites.

Whoever does get the job is likely to walk into a toxic atmosphere on Tyneside with fans furious at Benitez’s exit mobilising for fresh protests against an owner with whom large sections of the support have been at war for much of his 12 years in charge.

That too could influence the field with any newcomer knowing he faces a near impossible task to win over supporters who had been reconnected to the club by the charismatic Spaniard and who had started to dream a brighter future might just be possible.