Newcastle have placed sporting director Dan Ashworth on garden leave as Manchester United prepare to formalise their efforts to take him to Old Trafford.

The PA news agency understands the 52-year-old has stepped away from his duties at St James’ Park having told the ownership group that he wants to accept the Red Devils’ overtures.

New Manchester United co-owner Jim Ratcliffe has identified the former Football Association technical director as the man he wants to lead an overhaul and now faces the prospect of striking a deal to prise him from the Magpies’ grasp.

It is understood there has been no formal contact between the clubs as yet but there is little doubt that both will want the matter resolved swiftly to their satisfaction after a week of speculation.

Magpies head coach Eddie Howe has already expressed his concern over the potential for Ashworth to take his inside knowledge with him and that fear is likely to have a major say in Newcastle’s willingness to cut short a stipulated period of inactivity before he can take up a role with a competitor.

In the circumstances, Manchester United may have to bite the bullet on a significant compensation package if they want to get their man in time for an important summer transfer window.

Ashworth was drafted in by Newcastle’s Saudi-backed owners in June 2022 after they paid Albion substantial compensation to secure his services.

They had identified him as the man they wanted to knit together the various arms of the club’s football operations and not just to oversee its transfer dealings.