Asprilla still figuring in Keegan's plans

Simon Turnbull on the Newcastle misfit who can repay his club's faith tonight
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The Independent Online
Faustino Asprilla reported for training an hour before his Newcastle United colleagues yesterday morning. "We thought: 'Great'!'' Kevin Keegan said, "until we realised he hadn't turned his clock back... The trouble is we know he's not going to turn in when the clocks go forward."

Nobody would be greatly surprised if the Colombian were not a Newcastle United player when British Summer Time came round. Keegan, though, made it clear yesterday that time is not up just yet for his pounds 7.5m misfit. Indeed, as the Newcastle manager plots how to overturn a 3-2 deficit against the Hungarian champions, Ferencvaros, in the Uefa Cup second round at St James' Park tonight, Asprilla's time may well have come.

Having hired Mark Lawrenson to help ease his recurring defensive troubles, Keegan has found himself confronted by offensive problems. Newcastle need goals tonight to keep an English flag flying on all three European fronts and they have not scored one from open play for 187 minutes now - not since the last of the five that rained down on Peter Schmeichel's goal at St James' Park nine days ago.

By Newcastle's standards that constitutes a drought. The convalescing Alan Shearer will be confined to the sidelines tonight and, while Les Ferdinand is expected to overcome the rib injury which obliged him to skip training yesterday, Keegan is considering Asprilla's as-yet untapped well of world-class talent as a tributary source.

As the Newcastle manager reasoned yesterday: "He has got tremendous experience of playing in Europe." Asprilla, in fact, is the only Newcastle player who has a European medal, albeit a loser's one from the Cup-Winners' Cup final defeat Parma suffered against Arsenal in Copenhagen in 1994.

The South American was absent from the previous year's final, when Parma beat Antwerp at Wembley, but it was his goal that overcame Atletico Madrid in the semi-finals. Keegan might care to note, moreover, that Asprilla produced this match-winning virtuoso performance after spending several months as a disgruntled substitute on the Parma bench.

A similar response tonight would solve a potential headache for Keegan, and the signs are that he will reach for his "Aspro", even though he started with him on the shelf in the 2-0 defeat at Leicester. "There's no reason why he can't be a major success here," Keegan said. "I still think he could help us win a championship or a European trophy. I still believe in him.

"We're looking for him to adapt more to English football - he sometimes gives the ball away too cheaply. But we've got to realise that he isn't an Alan Shearer or a Les Ferdinand. He's different. And we've got enough ability to carry his minuses and utilise his pluses."

It all adds up to the misfit figuring in Keegan's plans tonight. Only a positive result will keep Newcastle in the European equation.

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