Mike Ashley must pull out all the stops to tie “amazing” and “fantastic” Rafael Benitez to a new contract at Newcastle United, Noel Whelan has told Football Insider.
Benitez is out of contract at the north-east giants at the end of the season and talks are underway over an extension.
But the Spaniard revealed at his media conference last Friday that the ball is in Ashley and managing director Lee Charnley’s court over the new deal as he is waiting “for an answer” on the proposals he put forward for the agreement.
“Newcastle have a fantastic manager and must do everything they can to keep hold of him,” Whelan exclusively told Football Insider. “Newcastle have some good players but Benitez is the biggest player and the most important man at the club.
“What he’s done with the players he’s got is amazing. He’s got the best out of the players available and, without him, Newcastle would be in real trouble.
“Newcastle are a huge club with the pressure to perform and Benitez has worked wonders there. I’m so impressed with everything he does – the way he goes about his job, his eye for detail. Mike Ashley is lucky to have him and can’t afford to lose him.”
Benitez is yet to get the assurances from Charnley and owner Ashley he has asked for in recent times, which are reportedly said to include more leeway over transfers and for greater investment in the club’s training headquarters and academy set-up.
The Spaniard is set to keep Newcastle in the Premier League for a second consecutive season despite a budget that is dwarfed by many of his team’s rivals.
The club lost to Crystal Palace at home on Saturday but are seven points clear of 18th-placed Cardiff City with five matches of their league campaign remaining.
In other Newcastle United news, the club are eager to sign a 30-goal striker who has headed in for a trial.