LAURENT BLANC and David Moyes are among the early candidates to have expressed an interest in taking over at Newcastle United – but Magpies officials insist the search for Rafael Benitez’s successor remains at an extremely formative stage.

Benitez’s departure was confirmed yesterday afternoon, with Newcastle releasing an official statement that outlined their failure to agree terms with the Spaniard over a new deal.

The 59-year-old’s contract does not officially expire until Sunday, but after Email communications over the weekend resulted in an acceptance on both sides that an agreement would not be possible, the Newcastle hierarchy opted to go public to announce that Benitez’s three-year spell in charge at St James’ Park was at an end.

Benitez will spend the next few days at his home on the Wirral pondering his next move, with Chinese side Dalian Yifang having offered a £12m-a-year contract. He has turned down previous offers to work in China and the Middle East, but could accept Dalian’s offer after concluding that he is no longer prepared to work under Mike Ashley.

Benitez had been holding out in the hope that a successful takeover might result in Ashley’s departure from Tyneside, so while the Dubai-based Bin Zayed Group continue to brief that their takeover attempts are on track, yesterday’s developments suggest a change of ownership is not imminent.

Ashley and Lee Charnley’s new priority is to recruit Benitez’s successor, with some of Newcastle’s players due to report for the start of pre-season training next Thursday. As things stand, recently-appointed reserves boss Neil Redfearn is the most senior member of the remaining backroom set-up.

A number of high-profile candidates have approached the Newcastle hierarchy to offer their services, with Blanc and Moyes both desperate to return to management at St James’ Park.

After a hugely successful playing career, Blanc stepped into management with Bordeaux before taking over as the head coach of France in 2010.

Blanc led the French national side at Euro 2012, suffering a quarter-final defeat to Spain, and was appointed as manager of Paris St Germain in 2013. He spent three years at the Parc des Princes, winning the Ligue 1 title in each of his three seasons, but has been out of work since leaving PSG in the summer of 2016. His representatives are understood to have contacted Newcastle officials to outline his desire to take over on Tyneside.

The same is true of Moyes, whose last managerial role came to an end when he left West Ham last summer.

The former Sunderland boss carved out a reputation as one of the most highly-rated coaches in the English game when he spent more than a decade in charge of Everton, but an unsuccessful spell at Manchester United dented his standing significantly.

Jose Mourinho is the favourite with some bookmakers, and the multiple Champions League winner was linked with a possible move to Newcastle when takeover discussions leapt into the public realm last month.

However, after leaving Manchester United last season, he said his next job would be at a club “with the right structure” as he “did not want conflict”. Ashley’s Newcastle would therefore not appear to fit the bill.

Mikel Arteta and Garry Monk have been touted as potential candidates, while a possible return for Alan Pardew has also been mooted. Avram Grant’s odds collapsed yesterday afternoon when he was mentioned as a leading contender on Sky Sports, but it is understood that Newcastle are not considering a role for the former Chelsea, West Ham and Portsmouth boss.

Before assessing individual candidates, Ashley and Charnley will have to decide what structure they want a new manager to work within.

After repeated clashes with Benitez over recruitment, Ashley could decide he wants to move to more of a continental-style model with a head coach working under a director of football. The head coach’s duties would largely be restricted to the training pitch, with a sporting director figure working alongside Charnley and Ashley to sign players.

Anthony Hudson, a 38-year-old coach with experience of working in the MLS and in international football, has been mentioned as a potential head coach candidate, having left his previous role in charge of Colorado Rapids earlier this year.

In announcing Benitez’s departure, Newcastle also confirmed that the Spaniard’s coaching team would also be leaving their posts.

The statement said: “We have worked hard to extend Rafa’s contract over a significant period of time, however it has not been - and will not be - possible to reach an agreement with Rafa and his representatives.

“Rafa’s coaching staff, Paco de Míguel Moreno, Antonio Gómez Pérez and Mikel Antia, will also leave the club on 30th June.

“We would like to thank Rafa and his coaching team for their efforts over the last three years and their significant contribution to what has been collectively achieved.”