NEWCASTLE UNITED captain Jamaal Lascelles thinks that “perfectionist” Rafa Benitez has proven just how hard it will be to replace him after three strong years on Tyneside.

It is well documented that Benitez’s contract runs out next month and this week will see him discuss the situation with owner Mike Ashley.

Nothing has changed in that the Spanish boss wants assurances over the ambitions of the club under Ashley, and wants to hear there will be a sizeable transfer budget as well as investment in the training facilities.

In an ideal world Benitez would stay on and try to build a squad capable of making inroads on the Premier League’s top six, but at the very least next season he wants a squad capable of climbing into the top ten. Celtic and Roma are two of the clubs keen on prising him away.

The foundations have already been laid after his first few years at St James’ Park and that has been shown by Newcastle’s decent finishes in the top-flight since winning the Championship in May 2017.

Lascelles said: “You just need to look at his history. His stats do the talking. We finished first in the Championship, tenth without spending a lot of money and have more points this time without spending money.

“He’s been so calm. Other managers can lose their heads. Earlier in the season when we only had two points he just stayed calm. It’s important as players we had someone like that. He dug us out of a bad situation. He’s a perfectionist, even in training everything has to be right.”

It is that strive to have everything right that means he is hammering home to Ashley and managing director Lee Charnley just how much he wants to keep improving.

There is no way Benitez, who has a track record for winning things during his career in England, Spain and Italy, will be happy to sign an extension with just a directive to stay up again next season.

Ashley wants to keep Benitez, knowing how it would be difficult for Newcastle to replace him with such a quality appointment. If he was to leave then there is every chance it would disrupt a dressing room united behind him.

Since Sunday’s 4-0 win at Fulham on the final day of the season there has been a queue of players lining up to pay tribute to the manager for keeping them up again. That followed an afternoon when thousands of Magpies fans got their message across as to how much they want him to stay.

“The players think the same as the supporters,” said Lascelles. “We all want him to stay. Since he has been here he’s been great. Hopefully we can sort some business out and tie him down.

“Look at Sunday, we could have got complacent and just been happy finishing the season but it shows we have a lot of hunger under him and in the squad.

“We don’t have a clue whether he’s staying or going. It’s not down to us but hopefully he stays.”

Newcastle climbed up to 13th with the comprehensive win at Craven Cottage and boosted the seasonal earnings by £1.9m in the process, securing an overall prize-pot from TV monies to a little over £117m.

It would have been easy for Newcastle, with safety already assured and Fulham relegated, to have just turned up in the capital to see out the season routinely.

Lascelles said: “We knew it would be tough at Fulham, they’ve picked up form recently under Scott Parker but we put in a professional display and got the result.”

Newcastle’s players are now on a break and a few will be waiting to hear from Benitez and the club in the coming weeks as to what the future holds.