RAFAEL BENITEZ has entered the final week of his Newcastle United contract with his departure from the club now looking inevitable unless Mike Ashley offers some significant last-minute concessions.

Benitez’s contract is due to expire next Sunday, and the Spaniard has refused to sign the new one-year deal that was offered to him in the middle of last month.

While Benitez and his representatives have had telephone and Email conversations with the Newcastle hierarchy in the last few weeks, they have not held a face-to-face meeting with either Ashley or Lee Charnley since mid-May.

As things stand, there are no plans for further discussions this week. Unless that changes, it looks extremely likely that Benitez will walk away from his position as manager next weekend. It remains to be seen whether he travels to Tyneside from his family home on the Wirral this week, but as of this morning, sources were not aware of any plans to hold a last-ditch round of talks to try to resolve the situation.

Benitez has been offered a £12m-a-year deal with Chinese side Dalian Yifang, but would prefer to remain in England even if his time with Newcastle was to come to an end.

His refusal to sign a new deal over the last month reflects his deep-rooted concerns at Newcastle’s future direction under Ashley.

The key sticking points have remained unchanged since the end of the season, indeed it could be argued that they have existed throughout Benitez’s time on Tyneside.

The 59-year-old has sought guarantees over Newcastle’s spending plans for the summer and January transfer windows, with Charnley having previously stated that around £50m would be available this summer along with any further sums raised by player sales. However, with the managing director tending to include salaries, loan fees and agent payments in his accounting model, those commitments would almost certainly also have to come from the ‘spending pot’.

Benitez wants Newcastle to adopt a more streamlined recruitment model that does not involve lengthy waits for a decision over whether or not to sign a player, and has also pressed Ashley to abandon his policy of refusing to offer long-term deals to players approaching their 30s.

The Magpies boss is keen to sign Salomon Rondon on a permanent basis this summer, but 12 months ago, Ashley refused to trigger the Venezuelan’s buyout clause at West Brom because of concerns over his age. Rondon, who turns 30 in September, is available for £16.5m this summer, and is keen to join Newcastle despite competing interest from West Ham, Wolves and Fenerbahce, but Benitez has not been told he will be able to complete a deal.

Sources at St James’ Park continue to insist that the Newcastle hierarchy want to keep Benitez, and the club have not approached any potential replacements. However, with the clock ticking ahead of Sunday’s contractual deadline, that stance would surely have to change this week if Ashley and Charnley were not prepared to schedule a new round of talks with Benitez.

There will be a huge supporters’ backlash if Benitez leaves, with the vast majority of Newcastle fans backing the manager in the current stand-off.

The situation is further complicated by the ongoing takeover talk, and it had been thought that Benitez could agree to remain in his position on a short-term basis in the hope that new owners could be in place before the turn of the year.

However, while Ashley is understood to have held discussions with at least two interested parties, the talks remain shrouded in secrecy and a resolution that would result in a change of ownership is not believed to be close.

The Dubai-based Bin Zayed Group have claimed their takeover attempts are on track, and they have signed a Heads of Terms agreement with Ashley. However, the group led by Sheikh Khaled have not made any public statements for a couple of weeks now and the early momentum generated by their comments appears to have dissipated.