LONDON • Rafael Benitez, the former Liverpool and Real Madrid manager, has emerged as Newcastle's first choice to succeed Steve McClaren as the club seek to avoid relegation from the Premier League.
Led by Lee Charnley, the managing director, Newcastle's hierarchy have made contact with the Spaniard to assess whether he would be interested in the position.
They have drawn up a list of alternatives, including David Moyes, Nigel Pearson and Brendan Rodgers. But Benitez, who has been out of work since his departure from the Bernabeu in January, is thought to be the preferred target.
The 55-year-old would like to work in England again - his family have remained at their home on the Wirral ever since he left Liverpool in 2010 - but the St James' Park board accepts that he will need to be convinced to take on a job as precarious as the one on offer in Newcastle.
There are obvious doubts over whether he would have sufficient time to arrest the alarming slump in form under McClaren - they sit 19th in the table, and have 10 games left - to escape relegation this year.
Benitez is likely to ask for assurances over the club's long-term plans, the willingness of owner Mike Ashley to invest in the squad and some control over recruitment.
The Spaniard has turned down a number of opportunities, in Spain and further afield, since he left Real because of his desire to hold out for an appealing position, ideally one that would give him the chance to compete in Europe.
Newcastle, who won the last of their four top-flight titles way back in 1927, would need to persuade him they can match his ambitions in the coming years to reach any agreement.
The Magpies do not wish to sack McClaren until his replacement is secured, and are expected to approach Moyes, Pearson and Rodgers if there is no prospect of an agreement with Benitez.
McClaren, who took training on Tuesday, could yet be in charge for Monday's trip to league leaders Leicester if all three avenues fail to bear fruit. And he has made it clear that he will not resign.
The club are eager to avoid a repeat of last season, when the departure of Alan Pardew for Crystal Palace left John Carver in charge as caretaker until the end of the campaign.
THE TIMES, LONDON