As time ticks by, and the clock runs down on Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle contract, whether we like it or not, thoughts must turn to who may be in the dug out at St James’ Park next season.

The overwhelming preference of fans is, obviously, Benitez signing a long term deal to stay in charge for the next few years.

Reports claim that Mike Ashley has made his final offer and is waiting for Rafa’s decision, which casts further doubt on him remaining in the hot-seat.

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So attention has to focus on who Newcastle could bring in to replace Benitez.

Ashley and Lee Charnley could go a number of ways if they need a new manager, and some may be accepted by fans, others most definitely would not.

Here are a list of realistic candidates the club could approach – both good and bad.

Jose Mourinho

Jose Mourinho is a name that has been linked with the job since talk of a potential takeover began.

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But most of that speculation has suggested him coming in after any new owner takes charge.

Whether he would be approached for the role by the current ownership would be open to debate. And whether he would be interested in working under Ashley’s restrictions is another possible sticking point.

He has always been open in his admiration for St James’ Park, the Newcastle fans, and the atmosphere. It has been thought for a while that he may end up managing Newcastle at some point in his career, such is his depth of feeling to the late Sir Bobby Robson who was his mentor in years gone by.

It would be an appointment that would likely split opinion among Toon fans, with previous links already receiving mixed results on social media.

Chris Hughton

Having been in the job before, Chris Hughton knows all about working under Mike Ashley.

When he was sacked after his spell, many fans felt he had been harshly treated, and have continued to show their appreciation for the job he did, whenever they have crossed paths since.

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He did a decent enough job at Brighton, where he worked with a limited budget and, like Rafa at Newcastle, managed to beat the odds by keeping the Seagulls in the Premier League.

Having lost his job on the south coast, and consequently available without a compensation package needed, he may be seen as a viable option.

As popular as he is, he would be seen as something of an underwhelming appointment, and would be unlikely to be seen as someone who could take Newcastle forward.

Eddie Howe

Thought of as one of the best young managers in the game, his appointment would be seen as a good option by many fans.

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He has never had a massive budget at Bournemouth, but that said, in the past couple of seasons, he has probably out-spent Newcastle – although that could be said for almost every Premier League club in that time.

It would be doubtful if he would be interested in coming to Tyneside, which in itself speaks volumes about where Newcastle United, as a club, are nowadays.

He would certainly bring attractive football with him, with his style of play likely to be popular with supporters.

He would certainly be one of the better choices that the club could make.

Mark Hughes

Journeyman Mark Hughes would be one of the nightmare scenarios for Newcastle fans, and would be likely to be an insult too many for some fans.

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His record as a manager has never been great, and it is amazing just how many times he seems to get job after job.

Apart from his spell in charge of the Wales national side, he has been at six clubs, and has never had a points per game record above 1.64 – and that came during his time at Manchester City.

An appointment like Hughes would unite fans, at least, but it would be anger, not pleasure, that brings them together.

It would be a disaster for the club, and almost certainly the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Alan Pardew

Dare we mention the unthinkable?

Having spent years trying to get Alan Pardew out of the club, re-appointing him would be the ultimate insult to fans.

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Seeing him back in the dugout would bring a total revolt from fans, and there is not a single positive aspect that could be seen from him coming back.

But he was an Ashley man, and although unthinkable by fans, it would not be beyond the realms of possibility that he could turn to him once again.

It would be putting two fingers up to supporters, and be seen as a deliberate act of provocation by the disliked owner.

He has been out of work since his two disastrous post-Newcastle jobs at Crystal Palace and West Brom, and he would be a cheap option for the club.

This would, undoubtedly, be the nightmare scenario for fans, and would be an unmitigated PR disaster.

But Ashley has shown before, he does what suits him, and the fans’ feelings would be unlikely to feature in any choice he makes.

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