RAFA BENITEZ remains optimistic that a deal can be struck for him to stay on as Newcastle United manager, despite claims in Italy that he is set for a second stint as Chelsea boss.

The Magpies boss remains focused on thrashing his future out on Tyneside although he clearly is having to keep his options open with the end of his contract nearing.

Benitez’s contract is due to expire on June 30 and it does not seem likely that a takeover will be completed by that time.

Sheikh Khaled continues to push to buy the club from Mike Ashley but he is known to be aware of other interested parties. Amanda Staveley and Peter Kenyon have both been interested in the past.

The situation is far from ideal for Benitez, who has returned to the club’s training ground this week with one eye on pre-season even if his contract may well have expired by then.

While Benitez is known to have attracted interest from Marseille and Roma already in the last few months, plus other clubs in the Middle East, the fresh links to Chelsea appear more surprising.

The Spaniard has been mentioned as an “imminent” successor to Maurizio Sarri at Stamford Bridge if he ends up leaving to join Juventus in one report in Italy.

Despite Benitez’s obvious qualities, Chelsea fans never took to him when he was asked to slot in on an interim basis in 2012-13 when they won the Europa League.

Sources close to the Blues have played down such talk, nevertheless it is a further indication of the uncertainty surrounding Benitez’s future.

Whether Benitez commits to a new deal at Newcastle – who are said to interest Jose Mourinho if the takeover goes through and Benitez leaves – or not, the new man at the helm looks certain to be without Mo Diame next season.

The club confirmed earlier this month that Diame has not been offered a new deal and he has now arrived in Doha for a medical with Al Gharafa SC.

He was one short of the 25-match Premier League starts that would have triggered a one-year extension at St James’ Park. He would have preferred a two-year deal anyway, which is what he is looking for in Doha.