NEWCASTLE UNITED’S players are “optimistic” that Rafa Benitez will stay on at St James’ Park this summer as he prepares for this week’s contract talks with owner Mike Ashley.

Benitez and Ashley are due to have discussions over his future after the Magpies brought the curtain down on the campaign with a 4-0 win at Fulham on Sunday.

That was a victory that was carried out in glorious sunshine in the capital and the travelling Newcastle fans spent the vast majority of the game letting Benitez know how much they want him to stay.

Italian club Roma have earmarked him as one of the candidates to replace the departing Claudio Ranieri this summer, while there is known to be other interest in him from abroad.

Benitez has never made any secret of his wish to stay in the Premier League and he knows that, with the right backing, he is in the ideal place already if he hears what he wants from Ashley.

Newcastle winger Matt Ritchie is hopeful that the Spaniard will commit to staying on Tyneside beyond his contract that is due to expire on June 30.

“Yeah, of course (we want him to stay),” said Ritchie. “It’s out of our hands. We can’t affect it but it is down to the manager and the board.

“There is no secret the manager has been fantastic since he has arrived, hopefully he can stay and we can continue to create a good team and look forward to the future with hope.

"I don't really want to talk about that (him leaving) because I don't think we're going to (see him go). I'm optimistic that he will stay, I hope he stays, everyone hopes he stays. There is no point talking about ifs and buts, as we don't know yet, let's just wait and see.”  Benitez is adored by the club’s fans, well liked and appreciated by the members of the dressing room and has a settled backroom staff, so on all of those fronts he would find it hard to walkaway.

But having successfully led Newcastle out of the Championship and followed that up by staying in the Premier League for two seasons in a row, Benitez quite rightly doesn’t want to head into next season fighting to beat the drop again.

His reputation is still high because of what he has achieved at Newcastle with little money to spend in comparison to the rest of the division, and that is why he is wanting assurances over a transfer budget from Ashley in his talks before deciding whether to sign a new deal.

Benitez also wants improvements made to the club’s infrastructure, like the training facilities, and he knows that he will not be short of options for the next chapter of his career if he does leave now.

Ashley is willing to give the manager some cash to spend this summer and there were suggestions recently that could be £100m over the next two years, but Benitez will have those detailed discussions when he chats with the owner.

Chelsea’s £40m midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko is one man who has been touted as a potential target over the last few days after his season-long loan at AC Milan.  There is uncertainty hanging over a number of players already at the club too, particularly in midfield where Isaac Hayden and Jonjo Shelvey are expected to be sold and Mo Diame is out of contract.

In attack Salomon Rondon’s season long loan from West Brom has come to an end and Benitez conceded after he finished his spell with a goal at Craven Cottage that other clubs will have been alerted to his availability because of his performances.

But Rondon has enjoyed his time at St James’ Park and he has outlined he would like to stay if a deal can be done, but West Brom still want a hefty fee for a player who turns 30 in September.  His 12 goals this season have helped Newcastle to finish a point better off than last season, even though they were unable to repeat the tenth place finish of last May.

The manner of the final day victory at relegated Fulham, though, pleased everyone connected with the team.

Ritchie said: "I think this team deserved it. What a performance on the final day playing for nothing.  “The number of times you see a 0-0 or a team not showing the desire, fight or mentality you need to win games in the league. We were fantastic from early on. 

“We are absolutely delighted with the way we've finished the season, I'm really pleased to be a part of this group. Hopefully we can build on this and become stronger and a better team next season. 

“I think we finished 44 points last season, 45 this so if we keep improving we need to continue doing that. Togetherness is something, especially second half of the season - fans, players, management, everyone has really pulled together. Results show that has a huge effect on the football club.”