NEWCASTLE UNITED’s desire to tie Rafael Benitez down to a new long-term deal is a key plank of Mike Ashley’s ongoing attempts to sell the club.

Reports have emerged in the last few days suggesting Ashley and managing director Lee Charnley are keen to initiate contract discussions with Benitez, whose current deal is due to expire at the end of next season.

Neither Benitez nor his advisors have been directly approached about talks, and there are currently no plans to hold face-to-face discussions in the next few weeks.

However, the Newcastle hierarchy are keen to make progress and this week’s developments could well be an early attempt to gauge Benitez’s reaction to the possibility of a new deal.

There are a number of reasons why Ashley and Charnley are keen to address the current uncertainty surrounding their manager, but the key factor is understood to be the former’s ongoing attempts to either sell up entirely or reduce his 100 per cent stake in the Magpies.

Sources in London have confirmed suggestions that Ashley has indicated a willingness to drop his asking price to around £380m, despite having previously insisted he would not consider a sum of less than £400m when he held preliminary discussions with a Chinese consortium at the start of the summer.

The presence of Benitez in the manager’s chair is regarded as one of Newcastle’s biggest assets when it comes to attracting interest from overseas, with the Spaniard boasting a global profile thanks to his time with the likes of Real Madrid, Inter Milan and Liverpool.

However, his position has been the subject of mounting uncertainty this summer amid ongoing interest from West Ham. Benitez was extremely frustrated at the failure to sign a number of his leading targets, with the situation having come to a head when the Magpies did not make a single signing on deadline day.

Things have calmed somewhat since then, but the Newcastle hierarchy are aware of the ongoing speculation over Slaven Bilic’s future at West Ham. The Hammers tried to recruit Benitez prior to appointing Bilic, and the Spaniard would almost certainly be at the top of the London club’s wanted list if they were to look to change manager in the next few months.

Newcastle would look to retain Benitez in such a scenario, but their position is weakened by the £5.5m buyout clause that would enable West Ham to release the Magpies manager from his current deal. That clause is something that Ashley and Charnley would be keen to address in any future discussions.

Whether Benitez would agree to a new deal is, of course, another matter, and there would appear to be little incentive for the 57-year-old to rush into signing a new contract unless he was able to secure the kind of cast-iron guarantees over financial support that Ashley has been unable to provide to a succession of previous managers.

Benitez is already looking ahead to the January transfer window, and his bargaining position is strengthened by the need to make concessions in order to prevent him leaving without any compensation at the end of his contract.

The former Champions League winner has always been a strategic thinker who plans meticulously for the future, but he insists he is also a coach who is obsessed with extracting the maximum from the players currently at his disposal.

“At the moment, I am focused on the games and improving the team we have,” he said, in an interview with Sky Sports prior to last weekend’s defeat at Brighton. “My background is a coach, not a manager. I have been working all my life as a coach to improve players, it is what I like to do.

“If you have the team doing well, the fans are talking about the football. I would like to have the same situation until the end of the season, that means it will be positive.

“To see a city, all the fans, dreaming – sometimes we have to keep our feet on the floor – especially us the staff – but I am not worried about the fans dreaming.”