FEDERICO FERNANDEZ is hoping to hold contract talks with Newcastle United officials before the end of January – and is keen to extend his stay at St James’ Park.

The Argentinian defender is due to become a free agent at the end of the season, having signed a two-year contract when he joined the Magpies from Swansea City in August 2018.

He is free to speak to prospective employers based overseas from the start of next month, but wants to hear what the Newcastle hierarchy are willing to offer before he starts considering options elsewhere.

While he started the season well down the defensive pecking order, he has become an increasingly influential figure in the last few weeks, starting Newcastle’s last seven matches as part of Steve Bruce’s preferred five-man backline and scoring crucial goals against West Ham United and Southampton.

However, given that he will turn 31 in February, Bruce could face a battle to persuade Mike Ashley and Lee Charnley to renew Fernandez’s contract. Ashley has long been resistant to offering long-term deals to players in their 30s, and Fernandez would be understandably reluctant to agree to a 12-month extension if there was the prospect of a longer offer from other Premier League teams or clubs based in Europe.

“Would I like to stay longer? Yes, it’s a great club. But, of course we need to talk in January,” said Fernandez, who played with Napoli and Getafe prior to joining Swansea in 2014. “We will see what the club think about it.

“We will sit at the table and see what the options are. I haven’t spoken yet. I focus on playing, on the team, it’s December so we have time.

“I am focused, and when you play and play well, and the team plays well, everything is easier. We will see what is going on in the next two months.”

Fernandez is one of nine senior players coming to the end of either their contract or loan agreement in the summer, so January could prove a crucial month in terms of shaping Newcastle’s long-term plans.

Jack Colback, Rob Elliot and Ki Sung-yueng will almost certainly be released when their current deals expire, but Bruce will be much keener to retain the other six players who are due to leave in June.

Talks with Matty Longstaff’s representatives have begun, and the youngster is expected to put pen to paper on a new agreement shortly, while an €11m fee has already been agreed for Jetro Willems as part of the loan deal that took the full-back from Eintracht Frankfurt. Newcastle could opt to trigger the clause next month rather than wait until the end of the season.

Karl Darlow is valued as a second-choice goalkeeper, while Andy Carroll will be offered another short-term deal provided he remains reasonably fit in the second half of the season and will almost certainly agree to sign and extend his second spell.

However, things get more complicated when it comes to Fernandez and Javier Manquillo. Both have been surprisingly influential figures this season, but both are yet to enter into formal contract discussions. If they seek an improvement on their current terms, some hard bargaining could ensue.

Bruce’s role in the talks could be crucial, with the Magpies manager having been hugely impressed by the performances and attitude of both Fernandez and Manquillo in the last few months. Certainly, when it comes to the former, the respect is mutual.

“The gaffer is doing a great job,” said Fernandez. “We are working hard on the shape, we are solid. That’s what he wants. We create chances, we fight, we stay in games against difficult teams.

“He is really happy about what we have done in the last three months, but of course we want more. For us, we just need to enjoy the moment and try to finish higher.

“At the moment, we have 22 points and, before the start of the season, people wouldn’t believe that. We just need to keep working hard.”

Newcastle face a tough test on Saturday when they head to Burnley, but having moved into the top half of the table for the first time this season at the weekend, what should the extent of their realistic ambition be?

“Who knows,” said Fernandez. “We know we can improve with the ball, and that will help us play better, create chances and win games. The mentality from everyone is to be focused, and we have that belief that we can finish higher and do great things.”