MIKE ASHLEY wants to tie Rafael Benitez down to a new five-year deal – and is determined to break the current impasse over the Newcastle United manager’s future before the transfer window reopens at the start of January.

Benitez’s current contract is due to expire next summer, but talks over a new deal broke down in the second half of last season and have not been resurrected during the current campaign.

Ashley is keen to initiate a new round of discussions, and is even prepared to take a much more hands-on approach to negotiations if it helps facilitate a breakthrough.

The Sports Direct boss remains keen to sell up, but accepts any deal is a long way off, with no one currently willing to meet his asking price of at least £300m.

With an imminent sale extremely unlikely, Ashley has attempted to reengage with the Magpies. He has attended the club’s last six matches, paid for a team dinner attended by Benitez and his first-team squad, and went to the dressing room in the wake of Saturday’s 1-0 win over Watford to offer his personal congratulations.

His next move will be to reach out to Benitez and his representatives, although it remains to be seen how the Newcastle boss reacts if he is challenged to attend new discussions.

Benitez’s salary is not believed to be an issue, with Ashley ready to meet the 58-year-old’s financial demands. The length of any future contract has also been broadly agreed.

Three key sticking points prevented talks from progressing at the start of the year – the extent of Ashley’s financial support in the next few transfer windows and the scope of Benitez’s ability to dictate transfer decisions, an overhaul of the club’s academy structure, and a series of physical improvements to Newcastle’s Darsley Park training ground.

Ashley has previously failed to provide the assurances Benitez was seeking, and until that changes, it is hard to envisage the Spaniard signing a new contract.

The situation relating to transfer issues should become clearer in the next few weeks, although it is interesting that Ashley appears to be linking Benitez’s future plans to what will happen when the transfer window reopens at the turn of the year.

With Newcastle having recently been linked to Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers, Benitez will be mindful that he cannot put off making a decision over his future forever. However, sources close to the Magpies manager insist he would like to remain at St James’ Park if possible, having spent the last two-and-a-half years in charge.

Meanwhile, Paul Dummett has been recalled to the Wales squad for games with Denmark and Albania.

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