RAFA BENITEZ wants Ayoze Perez to still be at Newcastle United next season, hopefully driving the bid to power a team back into the Premier League’s top ten under his management.

The the Spaniards’ futures are up in the air for different reasons as the season approaches its climax, but Benitez hopes a resolution can be found on both fronts.

The Newcastle manager indicated yesterday that he will not lead the club into another relegation battle, suggesting there could be another manager willing to take over with a target of 15th but he won’t be.

Perez, on the other hand, is attracting interest from his Spanish homeland following a couple of good years in the Premier League, having also uttered he will fancy a return after five years in the North-East.

The 25-year-old’s hat-trick against Southampton has taken his tally to 11 and, even though he is contracted until 2021, that has not stopped links to a move this summer. Benitez is not concerned. He said: “At the end of the season you will see a lot of clubs linked with selling four or five players, and wanting to buy four or five.

"This is normal, everyone is thinking about the future. What will happen with him? I do not see any problem now. Finish the season, see what happens and if someone comes for this player or that it is very normal when players are doing well. If someone comes deal with that.

“If someone comes see where we are but I think Ayoze could be fine if we do the right things and he is happy. He is an important player for us.”

An obvious problem facing Newcastle when it comes to keeping players at St James’ is the uncertainty surrounding Benitez, who is still seeking assurances over the ambitions of the club before he commits to a contract extension.

And, more than ever, it seems like there will be an amicable parting of the ways if Benitez does not get the answers he wants before June 30 from the club’s owner Mike Ashley because he does not want to be involved in a third successive battle to beat the drop.

Benitez said: “I used to compete for titles and I would like to be sure that we can compete against anyone. I am not happy when you go and you play against a top side and if it's a draw, maybe you have to be happy. I'm not happy with that.

“I used to do it since I was in the Academy of Real Madrid. I like to win – like everyone - but when you are used to doing that for a while, you want to do it.  “Then I am realistic at the same time. I understand that each club has its own potential and each one has to decide what they want to do or what they can do, that's it, fine.

“For me, if I can compete, I would like to compete for something more and if you cannot, then you have to manage and be realistic.  "We have to do things right - I don't say this is wrong, but from my point of view. You can bring in another manager and then maybe he will be happy if they do well and they finish 15th. I would like to do something more, if it's possible.”

But Benitez, whose side play their third last game of the season at Brighton this evening, is trying to keep Newcastle’s players focused on finishing strongly without thinking of his own situation.

He said: “I told them the other day: It doesn't matter what happens to me or not. We are professional. We do our job, we have to be focused, train well and give everything. That's it. They know that it is a question of time.

“Because you cannot change what is going on. They cannot influence. Just train well and be ready. I gave the message the other day to everyone.

"Still I want to win, I'm a professional. I want to be sure we do everything in our job properly. You are trying to do everything right. Now it's not the same pressure, it's different but we have to try to make sure we can get three points in any game."

Newcastle will be without skipper Jamaal Lascelles because of a stomach bug today, but Fabian Schar is available after recovering from a glute problem.  Brighton are still looking for the result to keep them in the Premier League, and Benitez does not want a dip in form after securing safety like they suffered last season.

He said: “Our run at the beginning of the season when we were not winning games, now you say, ‘ooh, six, seven, eight, nine games’, but we were really close in all of them. It has to be the same now. It’s possible.  “I will try to do my best but it doesn’t matter if you are already on your holidays and I’m telling you ‘come on’. That was the conversation I had with the players the other day: listen, stay focused, keep working hard, forget about this or that and try to be sure that you’re professionals and do well. There are a lot of people who care about what we do, so we have to try and do well.”