Mike Ashley, the Newcastle United owner, will fly into England today to hold talks with Lee Charnley in which the club’s managing director is expected to present his case for Rafa Benitez to become manager.
Benitez’s representatives are prepared for their man to sign a three-year contract to replace Steve McClaren, the current head coach. However, there is the possibility that the former Liverpool manager will not want to take control at St James’ Park until after Newcastle’s trip to title-chasing Leicester City on Monday.
Sympathy has grown for McClaren, who has been left to take training this week with his position increasingly untenable. It was felt Newcastle would dismiss the former England manager in the aftermath of the weekend defeat by Bournemouth when McClaren was jeered by fans, but instead he has been left to carry on, taking first-team sessions, although those players who have dragged the club to the brink of relegation to the Championship have a day off today.
However, even though Charnley held a board meeting in York on Monday along with Bob Moncur and the influential chief scout Graham Carr – a meeting McClaren, also a board member, was not invited to – a decision on the latter’s future has still not been made.
After his talks with Charnley, Ashley has to give the green light for the club to present a contract to Benitez that is expected to be twice as lucrative as the one McClaren agreed to last summer and with an increased influence in transfer dealings, something McClaren was also desperate to have.
However, even if there is an agreement to continue with the pursuit of Benitez, there remains a problem of who will lead Newcastle for their league game at Leicester, if the Spaniard decides he does not want to be in the dugout for that game.
Newcastle must then make the decision to carry on the unseemly wait to dismiss McClaren or turn to Under-21 coach Peter Beardsley to take over first-team matters. If Benitez does not take control for the Leicester game, his first match in charge would be in the red-hot atmosphere of the Tyne-Wear derby with Sunderland on Sunday week.