FORMER Newcastle United goalkeeper Shay Given thinks Mike Ashley should realise just how lucky he is to have Rafa Benitez in charge at St James’ Park by backing him where it matters this summer – on the transfer front.

Talks between Benitez’s advisors and the Magpies’ managing director Lee Charnley have been described as “ongoing” for a few weeks as the Spaniard approaches the final year of his contract.

The Newcastle boss is keen to hear that Ashley shares his ambitions after a relatively successful first season back in the Premier League, when a tenth-placed finish was achieved and safety secured with five games to go.

But Benitez does not want Newcastle to settle for that and would like to set the bar higher next season, while knowing to achieve that he needs to add greater quality and depth to a squad widely perceived to have exceeded expectations this campaign.

Given, a regular competitor in the Champions League during his time at Newcastle, would love to think Benitez could lead the club to European nights again – despite knowing that is more of a pipe dream unless Ashley changes his approach.

“They’re quite a bit away yet,” said Given, speaking exclusively to 888sport. “They have had a good season even if they have taken their foot off the pedal a bit at times.

“They have lost to Everton and West Brom and these are teams where you’d expect them to win at home but it shows once again that there are no easy games in the Premier League. It also shows they need to strengthen.

“As for top four, that depends if they get well backed and if Rafa is able to get the right quality of players in. I’m not saying it could happen next year but in the next few seasons if it’s built up then there’s no reason why not. But you need some big financial backing to make a challenge for the top four.”

Sections of Newcastle supporters still chant negatively towards Ashley, demanding he sells up and leaves. There were hopes that would happen around Christmas time when Amanda Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners group were in discussions but a fee could not be agreed.

Given said: “I think the fans just want an owner who pushes the club forward and at times you think Mike wasn’t doing that.

“It was just a business and you hope they can challenge for the top four but at times it doesn’t feel like that: it feels like it’s mainly about selling a business; selling a brand.

“But if Mike dips his hand into his pocket and backs Rafa then why not? There is no reason why he couldn’t give more money and strengthen the squad and move up but he hasn’t done that for the past number of years so why would he start now?

“You wonder about Amanda Staveley and whether that’s all dead in the water. If someone did come forward and offer financial support then with Rafa in charge I think they could do big things.”

Regardless of whether Ashley sells up or he doesn’t, Given knows what the main ingredient that requires nailing down if Newcastle are to have longer term success is: Benitez.

West Ham United and Arsenal are two of those clubs being linked with the former Liverpool and Chelsea manager.

“It’s massive (Newcastle keep Rafa). He brings so much to the football club and he’s a big presence with the city not just Newcastle United,” said Given. “He’s got a wealth of knowledge and experience and he’s in that top bracket of managers.

“He could go to most jobs in Europe and he’s quite sought after and that’s my concern – can they keep him this summer? That will come down to the owner and his support but we don’t want to lose him.

“It’s a little bit like last summer. They (Newcastle) will be needing funds to improve the squad and that’s something Rafa has been calling for a while now. Unless he gets the funds it will be a repeat of last year.

“He had to wheel and deal but he needs to be backed, the same as every manager. It is very difficult though to compete now because fees are going through the roof.”

The first signing Given feels Newcastle need securing is goalkeeper Martin Dubravka. The Slovakian has been a revelation since arriving on loan from Sparta Prague in January, and now Newcastle are expected to push through a £4m permanent deal.

Given said: “He’s not been on trial but I suppose in a way he has been because it’s not a done deal as yet. I believe there was a fee agreed and if that figure is correct they’d be crazy to say no because he’s done so well.

“There is no reason why he can’t keep improving and with him being 29 the next three years will see the best years of him so they should tie him down.

“I’ve been very impressed with him. His debut of course was against Manchester United and all eyes were on him and he was the man of the match.

“He’s played well for the rest of the season and him and Kenedy as well coming in on loan, those two signings really helped the squad. They now have enough points to still be in the Premier League next season which is fantastic.”