ROB ELLIOT thinks Rafa Benitez has ensured Newcastle United are not a “stepping stone” club any longer and that the prospect of a takeover is exciting for everyone on Tyneside.

Mike Ashley’s decision to try to sell the club before Christmas after ten years in control was welcomed by supporters, and he is waiting for interested parties to carry out due diligence to determine whether they can make an offer in the region of the £400m asking price.

There are various interested groups, including the most high profile at this stage which is the one led by Amanda Staveley and the PCP Capital Partners group she runs. Staveley was not in the stands at St James’ Park on Saturday as the Magpies defeated Crystal Palace 1-0.

The victory, and the atmosphere inside St James’, was a reminder of the turnaround Benitez has overseen since taking over – and delivered against a team which included Yohan Cabaye and Andros Townsend.

Cabaye and Townsend both wanted to leave Newcastle to further their careers, like so many players have in recent years because of the club’s recruitment policy and wage structure. Elliot, though, believes that is no longer case.

“This club is definitely not a stepping stone club anymore and it should never be,” said Elliot. “Those days are gone now. The players here are all young, all hungry, but most importantly they are all wanting to play for this club.  “Last year, players left the Premier League to come and play for this club in the Championship and that shows the size of us and also the fact the manager is here, the age of the players coming in, they’re here to develop and get better and take the club forward.  “We’re now in the top half of the league and we can keep developing that, not just for this season but hopefully for more to come.”

The chances of Newcastle getting stronger and stronger could help if the right buyer is found to take over Ashley’s control. Benitez has managed to lead Newcastle up into the upper reaches of the Premier League despite a summer when he was actually left frustrated by the number of quality signings he was allowed to make.

A takeover before the end of the year could see Benitez given more cash to spend in the summer, and that would only help with competition in a team performing solidly to deliver results under Benitez’s watch.

Ashley is keen to get a deal done before Christmas and the hope among the fans is that Benitez will then be backed on the transfer front to bring in the calibre of player to take Newcastle onto a different level again. 

Elliot said: “There’s obviously interest (from groups interested in buying the club) which is exciting for everyone. Hopefully someone comes in who can take the club forward, which will be great. Hopefully it’s a great thing for the club all round, so the club can kick on. 

“The infrastructure is fantastic. As players we can’t do a lot about it, we just watch the telly and read the papers like everyone else, but we just hope everything works out for the club because we’ve been through a lot these past few years. 

"But there’s now a positive vibe around the place and we’ve got to make sure we continue with that. We want this to be a long term thing, where we’re always looking forward and not back.”

More signings like Mikel Merino would be like a masterstroke if he continues to develop as he is.  The man signed from Borussia Dortmund headed in the winner with four minutes remaining against Crystal Palace to celebrate his first goal for the club.

Merino, a Spanish Under-21 international, is being tipped for big things in his homeland and there have been big predictions from fans and pundits that he could become a household name in the game in the coming years.

“I certainly see him in a bracket where clubs like that (Barcelona and Real Madrid) come into it, considering his age,” said Elliot.  “It’s only a matter of time before the very top clubs come linking at him, but we want to be a top club, too. 

“We want him to stay here, we don’t want to see any of our top players up for sale again. That is the mentality now. We bring them through, the manager is here. 

“He’s a fantastic signing from the manager and the scouting department and hopefully we’ll just see him develop as a player and he fulfils all that potential at Newcastle.

“It’s brilliant news he’s signed permanently, great for the club that such a talented young player has committed himself. He’s very, very good. You can see from his performances the talent. 

“There’s no reason why he can’t go on to play at the very top. I certainly see no reason why not. 

"At the moment he is our player and we have to make sure he takes us to the top. We’ve now got a brilliant bunch of midfielders and one of them is having to miss out every week.”