Newcastle United confident of landing Rafael Benítez

Steve McClaren’s tenure at St James’ Park over as Spanish manager is lined up

As negotiations between Rafael Benítez and Newcastle United inched towards an advanced phase, Steve McClaren was again left in limbo on Thursday night.

It is no secret that Newcastle intend to replace McClaren with the former Liverpool, Chelsea and Real Madrid manager but they do not seem prepared to sack him until they are absolutely confident Benítez will sign on the dotted line. It is thought the Spaniard is likely to agree an initial 10-game contract with an option for it to become a three-year deal should relegation be avoided.

For the third day running though, McClaren took training at Darsley Park, Newcastle’s weekday headquarters, appearing deeply unhappy as, shortly after 2pm, he departed for his home in Yarm, North Yorkshire. Bar a telephone conversation with Lee Charnley, the club’s managing director on Wednesday afternoon, the outgoing coach has been avoided and ignored by Newcastle’s hierarchy. Damaging impasse The squad have a scheduled day off on Friday when it is hoped the damaging impasse will finally be broken. The former England coach has effectively been a dead man walking since last Saturday’s debilitating 3-1 home defeat by Bournemouth but on Thursday afternoon he had to endure the further indignity of television reporters announcing his dismissal only for the club to swiftly deny he had been axed.

Newcastle are hoping to have Benítez in the technical area – or at least watching from the stands – when they visit the English Premier League leaders, Leicester City, on Monday evening but, despite his position looking untenable, McClaren will continue to prepare for that fixture until he is told otherwise.


An added complication for Newcastle is that all Premier League clubs are required to stage a press conference before each game. Having cancelled the briefing they had originally scheduled for Thursday, the club must now hold the Leicester preview either on Saturday or on Sunday. Wall of silence Thursday’s wall of silence was briefly broken by Jonjo Shelvey, a £12 million (€15m) January arrival from Swansea who agreed McClaren was in “a sticky situation” which he should never have been placed in.

“I think a lot of Steve,” said the England midfielder who, incidentally, was previously signed for Liverpool by Benítez. “It’s a sticky situation we’re in at the minute and Steve’s at the forefront of it, which he doesn’t deserve, to be honest. But it is what it is and we’ve just got to play for him while he’s still in charge. Hopefully he’s still in charge and we can win on Monday night.”

If Newcastle – who have won only six league games all season – are to secure Benítez they will have to rip up their current model and offer him significant autonomy over both player recruitment and back-room composition.

Mike Ashley drives a notoriously hard bargain but, after spending more than £80 million (€100m) in the past two transfer windows, Newcastle’s owner is anxious not to miss out on next season’s new £5.14 billion (€6.56bn) top-tier broadcasting deal and is expected to accede to the new man’s demands.

Given there are only 10 games remaining, the race against time to install Benítez by Monday has assumed critical importance. After the visit to Leicester, Newcastle are home to Sunderland – managed by Benítez’ old friend Sam Allardyce – and are then away at Norwich, another key relegation rival. Guardian Service