Bin Zayed Group takeover, Rafa Benitez's contract, transfer window - SEVEN key dates for Newcastle United this summer
This summer could turn out to be one of the most pivotal in shaping the future of Newcastle United in recent memory.
With so much up in the air, the next few weeks have the potential to make or break fan dreams, with the future of manager Rafa Benitez still unresolved and a takeover by the Sheikh Khaled-led Bin Zayed Group still shrouded in mystery.
Here are SEVEN key dates in the Magpies' calendar between now and August.
Sunday, June 30 - The end of Rafa Benitez's contract
The biggest day of them all in many people’s eyes.
Three years of hope could come to an end in just 12 days time - that would, of course, be the disaster scenario for all associated with United.
The fact Benitez has not yet walked is a sign of how much he wants to stay, and the idea floated that the Magpies' hierarchy are yet to form a Plan B shows where their priorities lie, or seem to be anyway.
For the fans, keeping Benitez is a must. He has brought hope where there was none, relative success where there was (badly) managed decline.
"I have excellent memories of Milan and Naples, but now I think of Newcastle, where there is still a lot of work to do," Benitez said of his future, when asked at a sponsor's event in Madrid ahead of his former club Liverpool's Champions League win.
“I had a contract with Newcastle and was happy there, especially as my family loves being in England. Now I'm open to new possibilities. I don’t know what will happen over the next couple of months."
Speaking at Craven Cottage on the last day of the season, following a crushing 4-1 win over Fulham, Benitez said: "Someone will ask me the question, do I want to stay? It’s very easy.
“I can see the potential of this massive club and hopefully we can do things in a way that will be good for everyone to move forward, maybe together. At the moment, it’s just keep talking and see what happens."
The ultimate politician, games are never far from the surface with Benitez. It's hard to know what and who to believe in this latest plot - and where it will end up.
Monday, July 1 - Takeover or no takeover?
The unofficial date set by those close to the Bin Zayed Group deal, led by Dubai-based Sheikh Khaled, is for a deal to be done by the end of June.
So, using their timescales, United could be Mike Ashley-free by the time the calendar ticks over to July.
Should this date pass without development it is not the be-all and end-all for a possible takeover but it certainly would lessen the prospect of Spaniard Benitez remaining at United.
Should Benitez be gone and Ashley still in charge, fan anger, already at breaking point, could well boil over.
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Thursday, July 4 - Players return for pre-season
It seems unthinkable now but the first-team squad are due back at their Benton training base in just 16 days.
Which coaches will greet them at Darsley Park remains to be seen. Will it be Benitez?
This uncertainty has led many fans to jump to conclusions, many tongue-in-cheek, with Mark Hughes and even under-23 coach Neil Redfearn suggested as Rafa stand-ins.
Wednesday, July 17 - Start of pre-season, Wolves in China
The Nanjing Olympic Sports Centre is the place where United will make their pre-season bow this summer.
In an ideal world, in Benitez's eyes, the Magpies would be putting in the hard yards in Ireland around this time of year, not heading 5,400 miles across the planet.
But commercial revenues decide these things, and United will be hoping victory over Wolves will see them take on Manchester City or West Ham United at the Hongkou Football Stadium, Shanghai, three days later.
Saturday, August 3 - Last pre-season game, St Etienne at SJP
By the time the French outfit arrive at St James's Park, the summer will almost be complete. The problem for Newcastle is that where the clubs around them already have the foundations built, United’s are yet to be dug out.
A low crowd is likely; will it be a precursor to seven days later?
Thursday, August 8 - Transfer window closes
Having opened on May 16, the summer transfer window in England for top-flight clubs closes on Thursday, August 8 at 5pm - two days before the start of their season.
Newcastle’s squad could, by this stage, potentially need major surgery with the future of 17 players up in the air.
Key players have been linked with moves elsewhere.
Sunday, August 11 - Premier League season opener, Arsenal (h)
It's impossible to know whether St James's Park will be a cauldron of noise or something very different.
There are four possible scenarios this summer, which could see Ashley and Benitez stay or depart, bring about very different reactions from the United fanbase.
With a little less than eight weeks to go to the visit of Unai Emery's men, the clock is very definitely ticking.