RAFAEL BENITEZ admits he has unfinished business at Newcastle United, but the Magpies manager also concedes that he is risking his reputation by filling the manager’s chair at St James’ Park.

Benitez’s future continues to be the subject of sustained speculation, with his refusal to discuss a new deal beyond the end of the season fuelling speculation that he could walk away when his current contract expires in the summer.

The Spaniard arrived with high hopes when he took over at Newcastle almost three years ago, but a lack of investment in the wake of the club’s promotion back to the Premier League in 2017 means he has been unable to realise his ambitions.

He continues to cling to a hope that better days could lie ahead, although fundamental change remains unlikely for as long as Mike Ashley continues to own the Magpies. Instead, the harsh reality is that Benitez will take his side to Chelsea this evening with the relegation zone just two points away.

“I said before, I wanted to come to England, to stay close to my family,” said Benitez. “And then this club was an opportunity, to be in one of the top ten, I will say, I will not say another number just in case.

“You have the top six, and then you could be there - between the seventh and the tenth. That was my view. We were trying. We couldn’t save the team in the first year and then we won the Championship, so we said ‘Okay, now, is the time’.

“Then you say the first year (back in the Premier League) is quite difficult but we finished tenth, now is the time. Then it’s the third year, and you try, you try, but… (sigh). I had teams, agents, talking with more money than here. And when I say more money, more money than here.

“But still I want to do something here, I want to stay in England, I’m close to my family, the fans have been fantastic, so you try to do something properly. It’s a challenge but it’s a risk. Yes, it’s a risk. But it’s a challenge and I will try to do my best to win every single game.”

Benitez has spent the vast majority of this season attempting to dampen down expectations in the wake of last season’s top-ten finish.

As the only Premier League manager to preside over a club that had a negative net transfer spend in the summer, Benitez can claim, with some justification, that has been realistic rather then fatalistic. Others might say the former Liverpool and Chelsea boss’ gloominess has become a self-fulfilling prophecy, contributing to an air of negativity that has smothered Newcastle as a club for the whole of the campaign, but the 58-year-old disagrees.

“I don't think (there’s a negative energy),” said Benitez. “If you talk about the other teams at the bottom of the table, they are not as big as Newcastle United, a massive club with 52,000 fans at every game and 9,000 when you go away sometimes.

“But the reality is that we have to compete in a division when we cannot compete against Bournemouth, who are spending money. Forget about the top six - we have to compete against the others and we have to be realistic.

"That doesn't mean you are negative. Realistic, because you have the experience. When I was in Valencia, in January we were eight points behind Real Madrid. I told my players, 'We will win the title'. We won the title by seven points. Why? Because everybody was together and working really hard with the same idea.

"Here, we have to compete against the teams in the middle of the table. That is the reality. If we understand that, we will not waste time criticising if he's the striker, the substitutions or if this one has to play higher. I know that is part of football, but, for us, now it's about getting one point here, three points there, goal difference here ... that's it.

“Last year, we were talking about staying up and we finished tenth. Because we finished tenth, some people were talking about finishing seventh. No, you cannot, because everybody is spending. You have to maximise what you have.”

The situation might change if Ashley was to sanction some significant spending this month, with Borussia Dortmund forward Maximilian Philipp having become the latest player to be linked with a possible move to Tyneside.

Benitez is currently refusing to discuss transfer matters, insisting it is important that he continues to remain focused on Newcastle’s games.

“If I don't talk about transfer windows, takeovers - all these things - it's because it's the time to concentrate on what we can do now,” he said. “Can I see the potential? Yes. It's there. But we have to be realistic.

“We have a position, we have to concentrate and maximise what we have and get points anywhere. Every point will be really important.

"The point I'm trying to get across is that if we lose energy talking about the other things, we're making a big mistake. Last year, we were stronger because everybody was behind the team and supporting the players. We were praising the players because they fought and they cared. It has to be exactly the same.”