It might have been different if Philippe Albert's first-half free- kick had struck the back of the Gallowgate End net rather than Peter Schmeichel's crossbar on 4 March last year, but the piece of precious metal Keegan craved for St James' Park was on proud display at Old Trafford the day he walked out of the management game. In the absence of the trophy, the tribute paid by his grateful successor on Thursday afternoon was sparkling enough. "When I took over at Liverpool," Dalglish said, "the club had been set in its ways for longer, but it's the same principle here. Shanks got Liverpool up and running and Liverpool has started it off here. If Kevin can be the first stepping-stone for this club, as Shanks was for Liverpool, then I can jog along those lines and carry on like Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan and myself did at Anfield. I appreciate everything Kevin has done here. I'd like to thank him for the legacy."
Becoming Newcastle's Bill Shankly was always Keegan's managerial ambition. Like the mentor who plucked him from Scunthorpe and made him Europe's most coveted player, he transformed a struggling Second Division club. He did it the Shanks way too - fumigating the training ground on his first day (as Shankly had at Melwood), overhauling the playing staff (Shankly off-loaded 24 players in his first year) and threatening to leave when transfer money failed to materialise (Shankly considered walking out when a move to sign Jack Charlton was blocked). Keegan even placed a plaque above the players' tunnel at St James'. Like Shankly's "This is Anfield", his "Howay the lads" and club crest reminded the opposition they were stepping into the fortress Newcastle's home became. It took Shankly four full seasons to deliver his first top-flight championship. Keegan, at the end of the same period in May last year, fell four points short. His replacement could not be better qualified to take Newcastle the full distance.
Dalglish has won as many first-class titles in his managerial career as his new club have in 105 years. Newcastle, in fact, have yet to be guided to one by a manager. Team affairs were run by committee when they won their fourth, and most recent, in 1927. Keegan's cavaliers could not have got much closer. Dalglish knows that, with a little pragmatic roundheadedness, he can succeed.
Alex Ferguson will suspect as much too. In the forward he penned to Dalglish's autobiography last summer, he touched upon the telling difference Newcastle's new manager can be expected to make. "Newcastle probably mirror Kevin Keegan," Ferguson wrote, "in that they are a rollercoaster type of team whereas Kenny is stubborn, which comes from his Scottish background. Kenny's team mirrored him as a player and as a person. Blackburn wouldn't give in. They would always come out of games with something because of their grit and resilience. That was my big problem, my big worry. That's why I had to try to talk him out of it."
That Dalglish did not need to be talked back into management (even after Bobby Robson emerged as Newcastle's first choice) was clear by the relish with which he spoke the day after overseeing his new team's stuttering FA Cup win against Charlton. He did not venture so far as to say he would love it, just love it, if he rose above the historical deeds of Herbert Chapman and Brian Clough to become the first manager to win titles with three different English clubs. The prospect of doing so, however, was on his mind.
"I think we've got a good each- way chance," he said, of the immediate championship challenge. "There are changes I'm going to make that I think will be important. But there is no need for me to wield an axe and make change for the sake of it. Kevin has put great foundations here. I just need to tamper and see what it throws up."
A little defensive tweaking is undoubtedly Dalglish's priority. It was the same, ironically, for the great Chapman when he moved to Arsenal after his two championship successes at Huddersfield. The turning point came at St James' Park in September 1925 when the Gunners were blasted 7-0 by Newcastle and Charlie Buchan, their captain, threatened to return to Sunderland if Chapman failed to adopt his idea of using the centre-half as a "stopper" at the back rather than as a midfielder schemer. Hatched in a Newcastle hotel, the plan was the birth of defensive play as we know it today.
As he set his mind to the challenge of eclipsing Chapman, and Clough, Dalglish moved on to the defensive only to round upon those who assumed his relinquishing of the reins at Liverpool (when the pressure of guiding the club through the Hillsborough disaster took its toll) and Blackburn (because, he implied, of interference) meant his management days were over. "I never once said I would never come back," he said. "I didn't have a list of clubs I would consider either. I had an open mind."
There were those who said he would never fill Keegan's No 7 shirt at Liverpool. And there are those Dalglish will enjoy proving wrong again if he completes Keegan's vision of Anfield-on-Tyne. The journalist who said he would bear his behind on the Tyne Bridge if Dalglish took Keegan's old job just happened to be the first person Newcastle's new manager bumped into at his Tyneside hotel on Tuesday night. "I asked him if he'd auditioned yet," said the man who will be laughing all the way to the trophy cabinet if he succeeds in covering up Newcastle United's rear end.Reuse content