Newcastle's Ashley faces further complication

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The Independent Online

The departure of Tony Jimenez has left Newcastle owner Mike Ashley with a big decision to make.

Ashley's efforts to offload the club are ongoing but Keith Harris, the man handed the task of finding a buyer, has admitted the process is being hindered by the current financial climate.

Potential buyers have been given until next Friday to formalise their interest, although it would be no surprise if the saga continues should the billionaire not receive an offer he considers acceptable.

Jimenez's decision to leave his post as vice-president (player recruitment), which was announced yesterday, saw Ashley lose one of the key members of his regime.

The businessman, along with executive director (football) Dennis Wise, was recruited to scour the world for the players which would help the Magpies build for lasting success.

His exit is understood to have come because he foresaw no future role for himself, and sources close to Jimenez have indicated he is ready to take up another job in football in the near future.

However, if the club is not sold soon - and best estimates at the moment are pointing towards the middle of next month at the earliest - Ashley faces the prospect of heading into the new year not knowing whether to stick or twist.

There is little doubt the squad assembled for Kevin Keegan during the summer - and which prompted his resignation - is in need of significant strengthening when the transfer window opens in January.

Injury and suspension have exacerbated the deficiencies of the group of players inherited by interim boss Joe Kinnear, and several of the consortia vying to buy the club have spoken openly about the need for significant investment in the playing staff.

But if a sale is not completed by the time the window opens, Ashley will have to decide either to invest further or take a massive gamble on the current squad mounting a successful fight against relegation.

If he were to opt to throw more money at a club which has already cost him around £250million, he would then have to solve the problem of to whom he hands the responsibility for identifying and securing targets.

Wise, of course, remains in position, although he, along with Ashley, has borne the brunt of a fans' backlash since Keegan walked out.

The Newcastle owner will hope the matter will be resolved within weeks, although that could mean dropping his asking price.

Kinnear, at least, remains confident the return from injuries of players such as Habib Beye and Jonas Gutierrez, who could both be fit for the visit of Manchester City on 20 October, will help to provide an answer on the pitch.

He got off to a promising start in his first game in charge at Everton last Sunday when, after falling 2-0 behind, the Magpies battled back to snatch a point and end a run of five successive defeats.

The presence of midfielder Danny Guthrie in the team was a factor after he completed his three-match ban.

Guthrie, a £2.5m summer signing from Liverpool - and perhaps the only one attributable to Keegan - has made a good start to his career on Tyneside, and has attracted the attention of England Under-21s boss Stuart Pearce.

He is not in the squad for tonight's play-off first leg against Wales, and although Pearce has hinted he could make the party for the finals if his side qualifies, he is concentrating on his club commitments.

Guthrie said: "Like any young player, I want to get into the squad, and if I can maintain my performance levels for Newcastle, then I might get a chance.

"It is an aim, but I am not too worried about it at the moment. If Stuart Pearce picks me, he picks me, but if not, I will just concentrate on playing for Newcastle.

"Newcastle's the most important thing for me. I want to play for the team here more than anything, and if I get picked for the Under-21s, that will be an added bonus."

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