Date: 2nd July 2019 at 5:01pm
Written by: Tony O'Connell

Mike Ashley had an excellent opportunity to show what his intentions for Newcastle are by retaining Rafa Benitez, but the Sports Direct owner failed to reach an agreement with the Spaniard, who has now taken up a position with Chinese Super League outfit Dalian Yifang.

Ashley has another chance to show what his intentions are, though, as The Telegraph understand Manchester United are ready to launch their first formal approach for Magpies product Sean Longstaff.

The Red Devils have been heavily linked with the North Shields-born midfielder since the 2018/19 Premier League term drew to a close in May, as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer sets about rebuilding his former side with young, homegrown talents that can make the Old Trafford natives top-four challengers again.

Manchester United have just added what they hope will be the first two pieces of that jigsaw in Aaron Wan-Bissaka from Crystal Palace and Daniel James from Swansea City, along with tieing Marcus Rashford down to a new four-year contract at around £200,000-a-week.

Solskjaer and Executive Vice-Chairman Ed Woodward have taken the decision to angle their business at one target at a time, but are hopeful another player can be wrapped up before the Red Devils fly to Australia on Sunday ahead of pre-season games in Perth, Singapore and Shanghai.

That player is alleged to be Longstaff, with the faltering Old Trafford side turning their attention to Tyneside ahead of a £25million bid sometime this week.

It was reported shortly before Benitez’s official departure that Solskjaer felt the boss’ then-imminent exit could boost his chances of landing the 5 ft 9 star, as the Spaniard had been key to his progression into the Magpies first-team.

Losing Longstaff straight after Benitez would seriously harm any hopes we have of progressing back up the table and reclaiming a top-half place next season, but Ashley rebuffing the Old Trafford side’s advances would show the strength we genuinely hold.

That could then help convince any potential candidate to succeed the new Dalian Yifang boss that the St James’ Park hot seat is worth taking up, as the relationship he will share with Ashley will be pivotal to whatever success he can deliver on the pitch.

Selling one of our most prized assets before a new head coach is appointed, however, would signal to any candidate even remotely considering United as their next venture that they would be better served staying well clear of Tyneside, as the job could become a massive smear on their record.

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