Dutch guru in the frame

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The Ajax coach Louis Van Gaal returns from a skiing holiday in the Alps today and can expect to be contacted by Newcastle United seeking a successor to Kevin Keegan.

After a trip to Spain that saw them so far rebuffed by Bobby Robson and fail to conclude negotiations with John Toshack, Newcastle's representatives are thought now to be looking closely at the Dutchman, who has already informed Ajax that he intends to leave at the end of this season and is open to offers.

"Newcastle United is something that I think will interest him," a friend of Van Gaal's told me. "It is the sort of big club with a lot of potential that would excite him and I know he feels English football is a good place to be these days." Van Gaal, 44, has worked his way up from youth coach at Ajax to head coach, leading them to the European Cup two seasons ago. He is much in demand in Europe and has been thought of as a successor to Robson at Barcelona.

In addition, it is understood he was offered the Milan job before Arrigo Sacchi returned recently but he is believed to have said that he did not wish to work again with the clutch of Ajax players he sold to them. He is a supremely self-confident figure who knows the European game inside out.

Bobby Robson, speaking on BBC's Grandstand yesterday, said Newcastle's approach had come at the wrong time. But it is believed the former England manager has given Newcastle encouragement that he might be available in the summer if they were prepared to wait.

Robson appeared uneasy as he talked about seeing out his current contract at the Nou Camp. He said: "When I came here in August it was what I have wanted for 18 years, and now I have taken it. Five months later I get the opportunity to go home where my head and heart is. It's just come at the wrong time in a way. It's sod's law."

Robson has come under criticism from the press and supporters recently, even though the team are second in the Spanish League. "My mind is made up," he said. "There is no greater pleasure than to go there at the right time with all things in perfect position but it isn't like that. I am at this club and I want to bring success to this club which they haven't had for two years."

Despite official silence so far on the subject, it is clear that Kenny Dalglish remains a prime contender, having been the first name that occurred to the Newcastle board. Peter Beardsley, apparently the fans' choice, has also been mentioned but his appointment would surely illustrate what is wrong with English football - thrusting an unqualified, albeit personable, figure into a job that should call for experienced expertise. As English football's new technical director Howard Wilkinson says: "There is a danger in this cult of the personality that surrounds management. There is almost a religious feel that is unhealthy."

Wilkinson, who favours mandatory qualifications for managers, feels that football is failing ex-players who are thrown into the job indadequately prepared for the stress.

Terry McDermott, in temporary charge with Arthur Cox, hopes an appointment is imminent. "I think they should bring in whoever it's going to be sooner rather than later," he said last night. "Whoever it is will find a set of players 100 per cent behind him because they all want to play for Newcastle United."

Toshack in wings, page 31