Villarreal boss Unai Emery has emerged as the leading contender for the vacant managerial post at Newcastle United.

Former Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain manager Emery, 49, looks set to beat rivals to the position, which has been available since Steve Bruce's sacking last month though sources close to negotiations indicated to CBS Sports that there is still work to be done to get any potential deal across the line. He has already identified transfer targets for the January window to the Newcastle hierarchy. The Spaniard is believed to have a release clause in his contract with Villarreal, who he led to Europa League victory last season.

Eddie Howe, Paulo Fonseca and Lucien Favre had also been linked to the St James' Park hot seat, which became vacant when Bruce was sacked soon after a Saudi-led takeover of the club with first team coach Graeme Jones taking the reins for the last two games. Newcastle currently find themselves second bottom in the Premier League, without a win to their name in all competitions and with 23 goals conceded in the top flight. Whether it is Emery -- increasingly the most likely scenario -- or anyone else, the next Magpies manager will need to both stabilize the club in the immediate term and prove he can be trusted with the sizeable transfer funds that Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund are expected to make available over the coming years.

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That is not a job that Emery has done in recent history but he has proven himself adept with Spanish clubs from outside the traditional big two of Real Madrid and Barcelona. He is also a master of the Europa League with a record four titles to his name.

Emery is contracted to Villarreal until 2023. A move to Newcastle would bring him back to the Premier League after 18 months with Arsenal that saw him come close to securing a top four finish and reach the Europa League final in his first season. However he struggled to ingratiate himself with club staff and became increasingly isolated in a second campaign that was brought to a premature end in November 2019 after a run of seven games without a win, their worst run of form since 1992.

With Villarreal Emery has offered a healthy reminder of what he can do in cup competitions away from the constant scrutiny of the Emirates Stadium or Parc des Princes, beating Arsenal and Manchester United on the way to a Europa League triumph, However El Submarino Amarillo dipped from fifth to seventh in his first season in charge and are currently 13th in La Liga having lost three and drawn one of their last four domestic league games.

Despite his disappointing first spell in the Premier League, Emery has retained an interest in returning to England and considered joining Everton in the weeks after his sacking by Arsenal. Reports in the north east suggest a growing optimism from within Newcastle that they can get their man, perhaps in time for Saturday's game at home to Brentford.