Newcastle close in on swoop for Rafael Benitez

Rafael Benitez
Rafael Benitez

Newcastle United are close to persuading Rafa Benitez to take over at St James’s Park.

Steve McClaren is still clinging to his job as the relegation-threatened Tynesiders sound out Benitez, who is understood to be interested in the opportunity.

And the Spaniard could even be in place in time for Monday night’s crucial Premier League game at table-toppers Leicester City if talks progress well.

Head coach McClaren – who had been due to meet managing director Lee Charnley yesterday for talks – will again take training today.

But the planned meeting did not take place and the pair instead had a brief phone conversation.

And supporters have branded the situation farcical given that McClaren’s position is all but untenable in the wake of last weekend’s 3-1 home defeat to Bournemouth.

But McClaren was yesterday no closer to learning his seemingly inevitable fate.

Meanwhile, Benitez, 55, sacked at Real Madrid in January after just six months in charge, is keen to manage again in the Premier League, having previously been in charge of Liverpool and Chelsea.

Benitez, however, wants assurances on a number of issues, notably recruitment.

And the club could be prepared to hand Benitez more involvement in transfers.

David Moyes, Nigel Pearson and Brendan Rodgers are also candidates to succeed McClaren.

In the meantime, McClaren must somehow prepare his team for the game against Leicester knowing the odds are against him being in the dugout at the King Power Stadium.

Newcastle are 19th in the division and a point adrift of safety. The Leicester game is followed by the Tyne-Wear derby against Sunderland on March 20.

Meanwhile, Harry Redknapp has distanced himself from speculation linking him with McClaren’s job.

Former Spurs and Portsmouth boss Redknapp said: “No, I’ve never spoken to anybody at Newcastle. Steve’s still in a job. I like Steve McClaren.

“I’ve worked with Steve (at QPR). “He’s an excellent coach, manager, but he needs a result quickly. But I’ve never spoken to them.”