WEST HAM UNITED are willing to pay the £6m release clause contained within Rafael Benitez’s contract if the Newcastle United manager agrees to leave St James’ Park in order to take over at the London Stadium.

Having already spoken to Shakhtar Donetsk boss Paulo Fonseca as he looks to appoint David Moyes’ successor, West Ham co-owner David Sullivan is also in the process of setting up talks with former Paris St Germain and Sevilla boss Unai Emery.

Both managers feature on the Hammers’ shortlist, but Benitez remains their preferred candidate and while Sullivan is yet to make a formal approach to either the Spaniard or his employers at Newcastle, he has received sufficient positive prompts to convince him he has a realistic chance of prising the 58-year-old from Tyneside.

As a result, he is understood to have confirmed a willingness to trigger what is effectively a buy-out clause within Benitez’s current deal, which is due to expire at the end of next season.

Benitez’s contract stipulates that he is able to walk away from his current role if he pays £6m, his annual salary, and West Ham will factor that sum into their own contract offer to the Newcastle boss. Such a move would leave Mike Ashley powerless to prevent Benitez leaving as the Magpies owner could not prevent West Ham from holding formal talks.

The power lies in Benitez’s hands, and the key unknown – as has been the case for most of the last three years – is whether the Champions League winner is prepared to walk away from Newcastle.

West Ham are not the only club interested in acquiring his services, but their pursuit is at a much more advanced stage than that of any of the other sides that might potentially look at Benitez this summer, and the Hammers have a vacancy they are keen to fill as quickly as possible following this week’s decision to dispense with the services of David Moyes.

Ideally, Benitez would like to remain on Tyneside, a stance that has not shifted since he first took over at Newcastle in March 2016.

However, he has grown increasingly frustrated at his dealings with Ashley and Lee Charnley, and views this summer as the pair’s final opportunity to offer cast-iron guarantees about his ability to use the transfer market to make the kind of transformative changes he feels are required to ensure Newcastle can challenge in the top-half of the table for the next few seasons.

Ashley issued a statement on Sunday evening promising to provide Benitez with “every penny generated by the club”, but the Newcastle boss is still waiting for a figure for his summer budget.

His representatives have held a number of telephone and Email conversations with members of the Newcastle hierarchy in the last couple of days, but they have not resulted in any real clarity about the sum of money Benitez will be allowed to spend once the transfer window reopens.

Tellingly, Ashley has made no attempt to set up a face-to-face discussion with his manager, something that helped smooth the waters at the start of last summer.

As well as seeking guarantees about the size of his summer budget, Benitez is also demanding assurances about the amount of freedom he will be afforded to spend it as he sees fit.

While Ashley and Charnley will claim that Benitez is in complete control of transfer matters as no one comes into or out of the club without his agreement, that is not the same as having the freedom to pursue transfer targets without a series of strict parameters being imposed.

Ashley’s long-standing reluctance to sign players over the age of 26 is a major issue, with Benitez having spoken repeatedly about the need to recruit more players with “Premier League experience.” Similarly, if Benitez is given a pot of money to spend, he would like the freedom to be able to go above Newcastle’s current wage restrictions if it is the difference between landing his number one target or having to walk away from discussions and watch him go elsewhere.

If Benitez was to move to West Ham, he would be given carte blanche to do whatever he liked, with Sullivan and his fellow co-owner, David Gold, determined to make a series of ‘statement signings’ to counter mounting criticism of a lack of ambition.

The fans’ protests that blighted this season’s matches at the London Stadium have stung the West Ham hierarchy, and there is a determination to ensure that the club’s next manager is given what he feels is necessary to turn the club around.

Benitez will be aware of the poisonous atmosphere that Moyes was forced to contend with, but having worked in highly-charged environments at Chelsea and Real Madrid in particular, the Newcastle boss will be confident he is capable of quelling any unrest he encounters in east London.

He was on the verge of moving to West Ham in the summer of 2015, only for Real Madrid’s last-minute approach to lure him to the Bernabeu. However, the Hammers hierarchy were impressed with the way he conducted himself during those discussions, and have continued to court him assiduously since.