Ashley ally leaves Magpies

Jimenez first of Newcastle owner's main staff to go since club went up for sale
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Tony Jimenez yesterday became the first of Mike Ashley's principal back-room staff to leave Newcastle since the club were put up for sale. It was his decision to depart from St James' Park – the club have stated he is looking to "pursue other interests".

Sources close to Jimenez – whose official title was vice-president (player recruitment) – have indicated he is looking to stay in football and hopes to find a new club before long. A club statement read: "Newcastle United can today confirm that Tony Jimenez has left the club. Tony, who was appointed in January, has made the decision in order to pursue other interests. Newcastle United thanks Tony for all of his hard work and efforts and wishes him every success in the future."

The executive director (football) Dennis Wise, Jimenez and the technical co-ordinator Jeff Vetere were put in place in January to oversee recruitment policy. They have brought a series of young players to the club, and were also asked to strengthen the first-team squad during the summer – which led to major clashes with the then manager Kevin Keegan.

Keegan resigned last month after furious disagreements with the managing director Derek Llambias over the club's transfer policy, which saw James Milner sold to Aston Villa and Fabricio Coloccini, Jonas Gutierrez, Danny Guthrie, Xisco and the loan signing Ignacio Gonzalez drafted in.

It is understood Keegan, who had insisted Milner was not for sale, had little say in the acquisitions, and he was enraged when it emerged there had been efforts to unload high-earners Michael Owen, Joey Barton and Alan Smith as the transfer window closed.

Keegan's departure sparked angry supporter protests against the Ashley regime, which prompted the owner to look into selling the club. The investment bankers Seymour Pierce have been instructed to find a buyer, and interested parties – the Magpies believe there are six serious candidates – have been given until next Friday to declare their hands.

Jimenez flew out to Dubai with Ashley, Wise and Llambias after Ashley announced his intention to sell, in the hope that his business contacts could help them to push through a sale. However, that came to nothing and it was then Seymour Pierce were engaged.

Ashley had earlier tried to persuade Keegan to return, but sources on Tyneside today were quick to play down suggestions that Jimenez's exit could pave the way for a reconciliation. At least two of the consortia linked with the club have vowed to reappoint 57-year-old Keegan.

Gerry Francis has revealed he would be honoured to coach at Newcastle, but insists a deal to join Joe Kinnear's backroom staff is a long way off. Last week the Magpies' interim manager Kinnear offered the former Tottenham manager a coaching role. "I have spoken to Joe Kinnear and I have been made an offer," said Francis, who currently has a part-time coaching role with Stoke. "In the next few days we'll meet and discuss that. Newcastle is a tremendous club and it would be an honour to coach there, so it's nice to be asked."