In 1973 Keegan was a novice international player; now he is a debutant international manager. He brings to the post the same qualities of enthusiasm and unquenchable belief which underpinned his playing career.
Today he needs to transfer these to his players and hope that the Poles do not enjoy the fortune they had against Sir Alf Ramsey's side.
England, who will wear red, ought to win. Seven players have pulled out of his original squad but Keegan was still able to name a side which included nine players who have Premiership-winning medals in their collection and two others, Sol Campbell and Steve McManaman, who are coveted across Europe. There are one or two hunch selections, not least McManaman, who has not been playing for his club side, Liverpool, and Tim Sherwood, who will be making his debut. But it is still a quality line-up. What Keegan needs to do is ensure that they believe that themselves.
Last month's friendly with France illustrated the problem. As Alan Shearer, who will lead the team today, said: "Put our 11 against their 11 and we are as good as France... but confidence can give you an extra 35 to 40 per cent."
A self-professed Shankly-ite, Keegan has copied his mentor's philosophy of building up his own team and not worrying about the opposition. Bill Shankly was famous for team-talks which either ignored the opposition or included gems like: "That George Best, he's nae bad but he can't do this and he can't do that and he's in terrible form at the moment. He's in there next door thinking: `Oh Christ, I've got to face Liverpool, Ron Yeats, Tommy Smith and company'." Keegan will do the same.
He said yesterday: "I believe in all his philosophies, like not taking the opposition too seriously. Before the game I'll be talking to them individually, talking about little details, saying: `This is what we want from you'."
Keegan is without one of his leaders on the pitch, Tony Adams, who withdrew yesterday with a combination of back trouble and flu. He is also concerned about his father, who had a heart operation this week, but would have played if fit. Martin Keown comes in.
In midfield Sherwood lines up alongside Paul Scholes in what is expected to be a diamond formation with Sherwood sitting, Paul Scholes supporting Andy Cole and Shearer, and David Beckham and McManaman providing from the wings.
Sherwood, who makes his debut at 30, is now at Spurs but he played with Shearer at Blackburn Rovers and the captain said: "He can play as a holding player or an attacking midfielder and there are not many who can do both. He can get stuck in, which could be important as the midfield is likely to be crowded, and he can pick a pass. He's strong mentally, he's been around and he's been successful. He's been rewarded for consistent performances."
The Poles have brought yet another re-built squad, this one based on the 1992 Barcelona Olympic silver medal team. They include one British- based player, Darius Adamczuk, of Dundee, but not Piotr Nowak, outstanding in Poland's unlucky 2-1 defeat at Wembley in October 1996. He now plays in America, where he inspired Chicago Fire to the Major League Soccer title last autumn, but has also found time to buy a Polish Second Division club.
The Poles have gone nine matches unbeaten but struggled to defeat Armenia 1-0 in Warsaw a fortnight ago and only beat Malta by the same score last month with a last-minute goal. However, they won 3-0 in Bulgaria and, in the Osasuna striker Miroslaw Trzeciak, have a skilful and dangerous striker.
The goalkeeper, Adam Matsyk, who plays for Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga, is likely to be busier. He will dream of emulating Jan Tomaszewski's defiance in 1973, when Poland gained the draw that knocked England out of the 1974 World Cup.
That match still scars English memories but the reality is that, historically, the Poles have far more to fear, having beaten England once, in Chorzow in 1973 (when Alan Ball was sent off) in 13 matches. Since Tomaszewski's heroics England have won all four meetings at Wembley, scoring 10 goals and conceding one.
Keegan, a substitute in 1973, was left with his pants down. He recalled: "With a couple of minutes left, Alf said: `Get changed, Kevin'. I stood up and Ray Clemence pulled down my tracksuit trousers, my shorts and my jockstrap. Then Alf said: `Kevin Hector'. So I never even got on, Hector went on and had a header kicked off the line in the last minute."
As then, Keegan must today rely on others. As Gary Neville, with a refreshing sense of responsibility, said: "We have not performed as players in the last few games and it is nothing to do with the manager. If we don't perform it is down to us, not Glenn Hoddle or Howard Wilkinson. Whoever is in charge shouldn't matter. The manager can't play for you."
The buck, however, usually does stop with the manager and he can make a difference. Keegan's natural ebullience should ensure that England's recovery starts today.
Today's England Team To Play Poland
Referee: V M Melo Pereira (Por)
Wembley, 3.0 (Sky Sports 2)
Poland team to be announcedReuse content