Newcastle United have begun a frantic search for a new manager after calling off talks to persuade Rafa Benitez to sign a new contract after he refused to meet with managing director Lee Charnley last week.
Telegraph Sport understands the Magpies, despite the controversy surrounding owner Mike Ashley and the way he runs the business, have already been made aware of interest from a host of managers, both in and out of work, as news of Benitez’s departure broke.
It is understood they will look to appoint someone who is willing to work as a head coach, but are keeping an open mind about everything else. That means they will look at candidates, both home and abroad, with different age and experience profiles.
The aim is to have the new man in place before the first team travel to China to compete in the Premier League Asia Trophy in just over a fortnight’s time.
That gives managing director Lee Charnley some time to find the right person, although supporters are unlikely to be impressed, regardless of who it is, given the affection for Benitez on Tyneside.
Newcastle could make an ambitious start to the process with an approach to Jose Mourinho’s representatives to see if the Portuguese is willing to take over at the club of his former mentor Sir Bobby Robson.
That will almost certainly be knocked back, which leaves the other name to have featured prominently in the early discussions at St James’ Park, Steve Bruce, as the early front runner.
Bruce is admired by those close to Ashley and is thought to have the ideal personality to work with the owner. As a Geordie it has also always been his dream job. Bruce, a former Sunderland manager who has spent the much of his recent career managing in the Championship, would not be a popular choice with supporters.
However, he would be willing to put himself in the firing line and is not scared of the challenge of replacing Benitez, no matter how much abuse he initially took.
Other names under consideration will be former Everton and West Ham manager David Moyes and Burnley’s Sean Dyche. The Magpies do not believe they will be able to persuade Eddie Howe to leave Bournemouth, but have been led to believe that the other three British managers would be keen to replace Benitez.
They will be big shoes to fill. Benitez has been Newcastle’s most popular manager since Sir Bobby Robson led to Champions League qualification twice in the early 2000s.
Many supporters have already pledged not to renew season tickets in protest at Benitez’s departure and the new campaign will begin in acrimonious mood.
Although talks to sell the club are ongoing with two interested parties, hopes of a successful takeover are fading the closer we get to the start of next season. If a deal is going to go through, those close to the talks are suggesting it will have to be done in the next ten days.
Benitez’s exit casts a huge shadow over the club and although the ground had been prepared for his departure by both sides across the weekend, the timing was still slightly surprising and is believed to have been caused by a the fact Newcastle no longer believed Benitez had any interest in remaining.
The release of a statement confirming his contract would not be extended on Monday morning caught the Benitez camp by surprise as they had anticipated there would be one final push to keep him at St James’ Park.
However, a terse email exchange over the weekend led to the termination of negotiations and the Magpies spent the rest of the day drawing up a shortlist of potential replacements.
Not that there was any real chance they could have got Benitez to change his mind as they have not made any movement on the initial one-year extension offered last month which would have seen the Spaniard maintain his annual salary of £6m-a-year with lucrative bonuses attached.
That did not go down well with Benitez, who wanted a pay rise, but also the scope to sign the players he wanted in this transfer window, irrespective of age, while dramatically increasing the wage budget of the first team squad.
Benitez was happy enough with a transfer budget of £61m, plus whatever he raised through player sales, but it was the inability to offer him more freedom regarding how it was spent that led to the deadlock.
Newcastle’s owner had also been made aware of the fact that Benitez had been offered to a host of European clubs over the course of the last few months and Ashley was not convinced his heart was in the job when they met earlier this summer. That was before Benitez was widely linked with a move to China last week.
That does not mask the fact that Newcastle’s attempts to keep him have been tepid and their refusal to offer Benitez a pay rise to reward him for the excellent work he has done over the last three-and-a-half years were not the actions of a club desperate to keep their manager.
The refusal to entertain any thought of improving the club’s training ground also grated with Benitez who decided Newcastle were never going to realise their potential while Ashley remained in charge. The vast majority of supporters will agree with him. The new manager has an unenviable task.
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