WITH Newcastle United’s Premier League status now secure, Rafael Benitez is set to hold face-to-face talks with managing director Lee Charnley to discuss his future beyond the end of next month.

Benitez, whose current contract is due to expire on June 30, will raise a number of issues that he wants clarifying before he is willing to sign a new deal. What are Benitez’s key sticking points? And what is Charnley’s response likely to be?


The Northern Echo:

Ultimately, it all boils down to this. Benitez wants to know what Charnley and Mike Ashley want Newcastle United to be over the next few years. Do they share his ambitions for the club? Or are they willing to set their sights much lower?

Benitez’s view of Newcastle has not changed much from the moment he walked through the door at St James’ Park. He accepts the Magpies can no long consider themselves as rivals to the established ‘big six’. But he thinks they should aspire to be the ‘best of the rest’, finishing in seventh or eighth position – possibly even fifth or sixth if things really go their way – and targeting regular qualification for Europe. Despite his record for playing sub-standard teams, he also thinks some cup success should not be beyond them.

Charnley and Ashley seem more content with Newcastle’s current position. In his comments that accompanied last week’s publication of the club’s financial results, Charnley described the current campaign as a “good season”. That suggests the current hierarchy are happy to avoid relegation. Anything else is a bonus.


The Northern Echo:

Benitez chooses his words wisely, so it was telling that in the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s 3-1 win over Southampton, the Newcastle boss made a point of saying, “It all comes down to money in the end”.

If he is to sign a new deal, Benitez wants assurances that Newcastle will be able to “compete” in the transfer market. In his eyes, that means being able to outbid the likes of Everton, Leicester, West Ham and Crystal Palace if they are going for the same player. Those clubs are willing to pay transfer fees of between £30-40m and wages of more than £100,000-a-week. Presumably, that is the level Benitez wants to be operating at.

Last week, Charnley was at pains to point out there is money to spend. There is an £11m pot that was not spent in the last transfer window, and the Newcastle hierarchy expect to be able to provide around £50m for each of the next two years, plus any funds that are raised through player sales. That sounds a decent amount, but unless there is a flood of departures, it probably only amounts to around £30m in each of the next four windows. Given they were trumpeting a reduction in their wages-to-turnover ratio, it also remains hard to see Charnley and Ashley agreeing to a weekly wage of more than £80,000-a-week for anyone.


The Northern Echo: Newcastle striker Salomon Rondon (right) celebrates his goal against Huddersfield

When it comes to Newcastle’s transfer policy, the ‘how’ is as important as the ‘how much’. Benitez wants a free rein to spend his budget as he sees fit; Ashley has always wanted his managers to stick to a strict set of transfer guidelines.

It is telling that Benitez has started pointing out the age of his players in recent press interviews. Martin Dubravka, signed a little over a year ago, is “over 24”. Salomon Rondon, who Benitez wants to sign permanently this summer, is “over 24”. The not-so-subtle point is clear – whereas Ashley wants to pack his squad with young players who could potentially turn a profit in the future, Benitez wants to be able to supplement a core of youngsters with some more experienced players.

Ashley will probably grant a degree of flexibility, but his red lines will remain. No long-term contracts for players in their 30s. No big-price fees for players who are on the ‘wrong’ side of 25. Matt Ritchie and Mo Diame are extremely unlikely to be offered two or three-year deals, while Rondon looks likely to return to West Brom.


The Northern Echo: WATCHING BRIEF: A group of 27 local youth coaches were invited to attend a first-team training session at Newcastle United's Benton training ground

This has been one of Benitez’s major gripes for years. He does not think Newcastle’s academy set-up is fit for purpose, and regards the training ground as dated and requiring major improvement.

With Peter Beardlsey having departed under a cloud, there is scope for some reorganisation at the academy. However, Charnley has publicly admitted he does not regard a £25m refurbishment of the training ground as money well spent. He claims he would rather spend that money on the squad, although it could become even more difficult to attract top talent if Newcastle’s training facilities fall further behind those of their rivals.