NEWCASTLE UNITED are continuing to assess the credentials of applicants for the manager’s job ahead of the up-coming trip to China, even though there is no guarantee an appointment will be made before the players travel to the Far East.

Sources close to the club are privately playing down suggestions from Rafa Benitez over the weekend that they were informed “just days” after he met Mike Ashley on May 16 that he was not intending to stay.

Newcastle only started the search for a new boss after it became clear on June 23 that Benitez would not stay at St James’ Park, which has left them preparing for the Asia Trophy next week under the watchful eye of academy coaches Ben Dawson and Neil Redfearn.

There is no timescale being put on a making an appointment, so neither has it been ruled out that there will be a new manager in charge when the squad flies out on Saturday ahead of the opening game with Wolves a week on Wednesday.

Despite the ongoing takeover talk on Tyneside, with the Bin Zayed Group continuing to maintain they are serious about buying out Ashley, Newcastle are not dragging their heels and are keen to have a manager in place to lead the players through pre-season.

Mikel Arteta and Roberto Martinez are two of the leading names in the frame for the post, while the bookmakers have made Sheffield United’s promotion winning boss Chris Wilder favourite for the role.

Newcastle are still having to deal with the fall-out of Benitez’s departure, with the former Liverpool manager’s exit infuriating the Geordie fans. He has fuelled that situation over the weekend by claiming he knew in May he would not be staying beyond his contract on June 30.

In an interview with The Mail on Sunday from China, where he took charge of his first Chinese Super League game against Henan Jianye on Sunday as Dalian Yifang boss, he suggested the terms laid out during his May meeting in London with Ashley made it impossible for him stay.

Even though contact continued in June, he says there was never any real prospect of him staying because of the different visions of the club and manager.

Benitez said: “I would like not to talk too much about Newcastle United because we need to move forward. They need to think about the new season and I have a great challenge ahead of me. But I will say after the meeting in London on May 16 it was a clear decision for me and a few days later we told the club that we would not extend the contract.”

It is known that after the first meeting in London — which Ashley attended with managing director Lee Charnley, advisor Justin Barnes and Benitez’s representatives — Newcastle asked Benitez what he required in order to stay. It allegedly surprised Benitez and his representatives because he had outlined what he wanted during earlier talks in March.  Benitez has not ruled out a return one day under new ownership, he said: “I expect to do well with Dalian Yifang and after that to come back to UK. I don’t know when, but you’re always happy to come back where the people appreciate your effort and commitment and the Newcastle United fans have been one of the best in my career as a manager.

“The only feeling I can have for the Newcastle fans is gratitude. I show my commitment from the first day and they support me all the time.

“Even when things on the pitch were not going well, they were behind the team and me. So, I just can say they deserve the best that they can get. I wish them all the best and I hope they can achieve their potential.”