NEWCASTLE UNITED are closing in on Eibar defender Florian Lejeune, with even the Spanish club’s sporting director now resigned to losing the centre-half to the Magpies.

Newcastle have formally triggered Lejeune’s £8.7m release clause, and are hoping to finalise personal terms with the 26-year-old and his representative over the weekend.

Eibar had been hoping to hold on to Lejeune, who briefly joined Manchester City in 2015, only to be immediately loaned to Spanish side Girona.

However, their hands were effectively tied once Newcastle agreed to meet the clause in the Frenchman’s contract, and while Arsenal and Tottenham have also been linked with a possible move in the last few days, Magpies officials are increasingly confident of completing a deal at the start of next week.

“I’m not very optimistic,” admitted Eibar sporting director Fran Garagarza. “I see it difficult for Lejeune to stay. We are worried that Newcastle are taking very strong steps.”

Newcastle stepped up their interest in Lejeune after another of their defensive targets, Ruben Semedo, completed a €14m move to Villarreal.

Rafael Benitez’s Spanish contacts alerted him to Lejeune’s qualities, and Newcastle’s scouting team kept a close eye on the defender for the majority of last season.

He made 34 appearances as Eibar secured a top-half finish in La Liga, and is set to start as Newcastle’s number one centre-half next season, partnering either Jamaal Lascelles or Ciaran Clark at the heart of the back four.

His arrival could hasten the departure of Grant Hanley, with Sheffield Wednesday having become the latest Championship club to express an interest in the former Blackburn defender.

Hanley was a peripheral figure for much of last season, making just five league starts as Newcastle claimed the Championship title, and had looked like joining Derby County earlier this summer.

The Rams were unwilling to meet Newcastle’s £5m asking price, but Sheffield Wednesday are hoping to put together an acceptable deal.

Owls boss Carlos Carvalhal is determined to strengthen his defence after his side lost to Huddersfield in the play-off semi-finals, and has identified Hanley as a leading target thanks to his performances with Blackburn prior to moving to the North-East.

Benitez is looking to move on a number of his fringe players, but is keen to retain Ayoze Perez, with the Spaniard already counting down the days to the Magpies’ return to the top-flight.

Next season’s fixtures will be released on Wednesday, and having been part of the squad that was relegated two seasons ago, Perez cannot wait to start making amends.

“With the achievement of being champions, we are even more confident than before,” said the Spaniard. “We know it’s going to be a hard battle, but we are going to be ready for it. I loved it the last time I was there, and I can’t wait for me and this club to be back.”

Perez scored Newcastle’s opening goal as they lifted the Championship trophy on the final day of last season, and is confident the feel-good factor that accompanied the title triumph will spill over into the new campaign.

“The fans know we are going in the right direction,” he said. “We are back in the Premier League, we are champions, we are playing good football as a team. There are good reasons to be happy, and we must keep working hard and trying to achieve more.”