5 talking points as decision over Rafael Benitez's Newcastle future looms
Rafael Benitez is edging closer to taking on the challenge of attempting to guide Newcastle back into the Barclays Premier League.
Here, Press Association Sport looks at some of the talking points surrounding one of the biggest decisions of his managerial career to date.
WOULD HE HAVE FULL CONTROL OF TEAM AFFAIRS?
That would be a luxury not afforded to predecessors Alan Pardew and Steve McClaren, who had to work within a strict job description as head coach with chief scout Graham Carr responsible for identifying transfer targets. But it appears that Benitez, who was appointed as manager rather than head coach back in March, will get the free - or at least significantly freer - rein he wants with Carr's days seemingly numbered.
WHICH OF THE CLUB'S BIG-NAME PLAYERS CAN HE EXPECT TO STAY?
Relegation seven years ago prompted an exodus of high-profile players as Newcastle slashed their wage bill in preparation for life in the lower division, and there is little doubt that some of the club's highly-paid international players will be looking for pastures new, while others will be in demand. France international Moussa Sissoko has spoken repeatedly of his desire to play Champions League football, although he has prospered since being made captain by Benitez, while Holland counterparts Daryl Janmaat and Georginio Wijnaldum, as well as Euro 2016-bound Andros Townsend, are unlikely to be short of offers.
WHO DOES HE NEED TO GET RID OF?
Benitez started to clear out the dead wood before relegation was confirmed as Gabriel Obertan and Sylvain Marveaux left the club by mutual consent, and they will not be the last. The decision to hand skipper Fabricio Coloccini a contract extension last summer proved ill-founded, while striker Papiss Cisse's effectiveness has waned in recent seasons. In addition, Massadio Haidara, Steven Taylor, Siem de Jong, Yoan Gouffran and Emmanuel Riviere must consider themselves vulnerable.
WHICH PLAYERS CAN HE BUILD HIS TEAM AROUND?
A very good question. Townsend has been the club's most consistent performer since his £12million January switch from Tottenham, and retaining his services would provide Benitez with a major weapon. In Tim Krul, Rob Elliot - both of whom should be fit for the new season - and Karl Darlow, he has three more than useful keepers, while Jamaal Lascelles formed a solid central defensive partnership with Chancel Mbemba. Jonjo Shelvey has a point to prove after finding himself surplus to requirements under the Spaniard and while Aleksandar Mitrovic's temperament is the biggest question mark against him - he will be banned for the first four games of the campaign if he stays - an attacking partnership with Ayoze Perez could prove effective in the Sky Bet Championship.
WHERE DOES HE NEED TO STRENGTHEN?
McClaren spent much of his time at St James' begging for a left-back, an experienced centre-half and a proven goalscorer, and his arguments remain valid. Benitez's recruitment drive, of course, will be determined largely by the depth of the inevitable cull, but there is no substitute for pace and potency in attack.