LONDON • No sooner had Rafael Benitez helped secure Newcastle United's return to the Premier League than he subtly reminded the club's owner, Mike Ashley, that he is not prepared to settle for second best next season.
Asked whether he expected still to be in charge at St James' Park in August, Newcastle's manager smiled before offering a teasing reply.
"You never know," he said after Monday's 4-1 home League Championship victory over Preston North End, who finished with 10 men, sealed automatic promotion.
"That is football. I am really pleased to be here, and really happy and proud for everything we have achieved. Hopefully, we can put in the foundations for something that will be a guarantee for the future.
"Now is the time to enjoy what we have done. But then I must make sure we do the right things, we have to prepare everything to be strong enough for the Premier League."
As much as the former Liverpool and Real Madrid manager wants to remain on Tyneside, he was so disappointed by Ashley's refusal to strengthen the squad in January that he hinted he could leave this summer.
It appears the Spaniard, who signed a three-year contract last year but has been linked with West Ham United and Arsenal, will require guarantees of investment levels and spheres of managerial autonomy.
The Magpies became only the seventh team out of 18 to go straight back up in the past six years. They will join Brighton - who were assured of promotion to the Premier League for the first time last Monday - in the top tier next season.
Newcastle are four points behind Brighton with two games left.
"It is brilliant," said man-of-the-match Matt Ritchie. "It was a little bit tense but the lads always believed.
"We are disappointed not to be top of the league but hopefully we will put Brighton under a bit of pressure by winning our next match on Friday (at Cardiff City)."
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE