RAFAEL BENITEZ is ready to walk away from Newcastle United at the end of the season if the club’s hierarchy is not prepared to end the current impasse over his contractual position.

Benitez is growing increasingly frustrated at the lack of movement over a proposed new deal, and while his preference is to remain at St James’ Park beyond the end of his current contract, which is due to expire at the end of June, he is prepared to call time on his Newcastle career if Mike Ashley and Lee Charnley are not willing to meet his demands.

It has been suggested in some quarters that Newcastle’s rulers do not believe Benitez will turn his back on the Magpies after more than three years with the club.

However, sources close to the Spaniard and his representatives insist that is not the case, and while they claim the 59-year-old remains hopeful a new deal can be agreed before the end of the season, they are also adamant he is ready to move elsewhere if the current uncertainty is not resolved. He continues to attract sustained interest from China and the Middle East, as well as being the subject of ongoing speculation linking him with a handful of different clubs in La Liga.

While contractual discussions with Newcastle have been ongoing for more than a year, there has been no real progress in the last couple of months despite a heightened need for clarity on both sides of the talks.

Benitez was asked to submit a dossier outlining his demands at the start of this month, and it is understood a document was formally sent to Newcastle’s powerbrokers ahead of the 2-0 defeat at Arsenal.

The content of the wish-list should not have been a surprise to either Charnley or Ashley, with Benitez’s requirements well known. The Newcastle boss wants cast-iron guarantees over the club’s transfer plans for the duration of any future contract, both in terms of the size of the budget that will be available if the Magpies remain in the Premier League and the extent to which Benitez will be able to dictate which players are signed and sold.

Benitez is also understood to be seeking clarification over whether Ashley intends to continue his policy of refusing to sign or retain players over the age of 30. Benitez wants to sign Salomon Rondon on a permanent basis this summer, even though the West Brom loanee is due to turn 30 in September, and is aware of a growing issue over Matt Ritchie’s position on Tyneside.

Ritchie is about to enter the final two years of his current deal, and wants the security of a new long-term contract that will effectively see him through to the end of his playing career. However, as things stand, Benitez will not be in a position to offer new terms to the Scotsman, who, like Rondon, will celebrate his 30th birthday in September. Bournemouth, Ritchie’s former club, are aware of the situation, and are set to make a formal approach to Newcastle officials once the transfer window reopens in the summer.

Neither Charnley nor Ashley has made a public comment on Benitez’s position, but Charnley has been preparing to meet with a hand-picked group of journalists this week to discuss Newcastle’s financial results, which are expected to be published before the end of the week. It remains to be seen whether he sheds any light on the ongoing impasse.

The situation is further complicated by Cardiff City’s unexpected resurgence, with the Bluebirds having given themselves a fighting chance of survival by winning at Brighton on Tuesday night. The victory at the Amex Stadium closed the gap to Newcastle to seven points, and means the Magpies could still need another victory to be guaranteed safety despite last weekend’s win at Leicester having taken them to the 38-point mark.

Newcastle return to action when Southampton visit St James’ Park on Saturday, and Martin Dubravka is hoping his team-mates repeat the defensive discipline they displayed at the King Power Stadium.

Last Friday’s clean sheet was Newcastle’s tenth of the campaign, and United have conceded fewer goals than any other team in the bottom half of the table.

“The defensive work of all of the team against Leicester was unbelievable,” said Dubravka. “As a team, we defended really well all game and I was very glad we took the three points against a good quality team.

“We got to 38 points, and you could see after the game what that meant to us, but we’re still talking about the next game being the most important.

“We’re coming to play against Southampton at home. It’s a tough game, because they are also playing to stay in the league. It’ll be another tough game, but we’re playing at home and we want to give fans a reason to be in the same mood as they were the other night.”