NEWCASTLE UNITED have been encouraged in their pursuit of Greek midfielder Andreas Samaris, a long-term target of Rafa Benitez.

While Benitez awaits answers to determine what the Magpies’ ambitions are before he commits to a new deal, there is a danger that they will lose ground on summer transfer plans.

And Samaris is set to become a free agent this summer because Benfica have indicated they are unwilling to improve the offer on the table for him to stay at the Estadio da Luz.

Benfica president Luis Filipe Vieira has insisted the renewal of the Newcastle target is not a priority at the moment, just months after Benitez made a fresh move for his services in January.

Vieira told Portuguese newspaper A Bola: “In due course we will decide, but the priority is always Benfica.

“We will only offer what we can and only those players will stay who want to be at Benfica. That is the case for any player.”

Samaris would represent an attractive free transfer target for a number of clubs, including Newcastle provided Benitez stays and is given the freedom to sign players aged 29 if he feels it suits his team.

The club’s transfer policy is one of the negotiating points up for discussion between Benitez and the boardroom, and Samaris is also seeking 1.5m euros to consider signing a new deal at Benfica, so is likely to be the figure he wants somewhere else. Benfica have offered 1m euros so far.

The defensive midfielder impressed under Bruno Lage in the second half of the season and they made the move to keep him in Portugal.

Newcastle will be looking for midfield reinforcements of some sort this summer regardless of who is in charge. Jonjo Shelvey is expected to be sold amid strong interest from clubs, including West Ham, while Mo Diame is out of contract.

Isaac Hayden has enjoyed a new lease of life on Tyneside during Newcastle’s improvement in form since the turn of the year, although he has outlined in the last two windows that he would like to leave for personal reasons.

Benitez will have his own ideas on what he wants Newcastle to do in the market after successfully keeping them in the Premier League for the second year in a row.

There are still real fears that the Spaniard will be leaving at the end of his contract which expires on June 30, even though he does not have a job lined up to go to and he is willing to wait if he does not hear what he wants from Mike Ashley.

Benitez wants to stay in England so that limits the number of clubs he would be interested in taking over, and that is why he has not acted on offers from abroad, where there are more lucrative deals available in China and the Middle East.

The stand-off between Benitez and Ashley with just weeks remaining in the season has led to suggestions in Italy that AC Milan boss Gennaro Gattuso could be in line to replace him at St James’ Park.

Gazzetta dello Sport claimed Gattuso met with super-agent Jorge Mendes to plan his next move and that the Magpies had cropped up in the conversation.

But the former Rangers man, who has guided Milan into Champions League contention this season, said: “We often see each other, I like good food and to talk about football. Newcastle? Unfounded rumours. I repeat, with Mendes, it is just a great friendship.”

Benitez will head into the final games of the season without record signing Miguel Almiron.

The Paraguyan, signed in January from Atlanta United in a £20m deal, suffered a hamstring injury in Saturday’s 3-1 win over Southampton. It has now been deemed he will not be fit for Newcastle’s final three matches.