Football: Gambler's imstincts galvanise Keegan

Adventurer as both player and manager is prone to flashes of temper and faces roughest trip of them all.
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IN A PREVIOUS incarnation, to use the terminology which turned into a trip-wire for Glenn Hoddle, Joseph Kevin Keegan OBE must have been an Indiana Jones or Captain Hook figure. For if there is one quality that defines his managerial style, and indeed his entire footballing career, it is his spirit of adventure. Many in his precarious profession - the Grey Hair Club, as Keegan memorably called it - disdain the concept for its gung-ho, devil-may-care connotations. George Graham visibly squirmed when, after Tottenham's FA Cup tie at Leeds last weekend, a reporter asked about their "adventures" in the knock-out competitions. Keegan positively embraces it in a way that sets him apart from any of England's eight previous managers.

As a player, Keegan always took risks in terms of where he would ply his trade. He left Liverpool, for instance, when they were just beginning to dominate Europe, plunging himself, his wife and two young daughters into an alien culture in Hamburg. Then he joined Southampton in preference to Juventus, a decision he admits he has not been able to rationalise, and after a thrilling swan-song at Newcastle he simply dropped out of sight, or on to the golf courses of Marbella.

Having been coaxed back to manage Newcastle, he embarked on his greatest escapade until England came calling. Throwing money at the transfer market and caution to the wind, he led one of the game's serial under-achievers to within touching distance of the Premiership title. It ended in glorious failure, but Keegan did not retreat to Spain again, instead pitching up at Fulham for another adventure: to fulfil the fanciful ambition of their owner, Mohamed al-Fayed, to become "the Manchester United of the South".

The curious aspect of Keegan's swashbuckling style is that his formative years were spent on the breadline - an existence which, in others, is calculated to encourage a cautious, safety-first approach to life and work. For example, the England manager who made him captain of his country, Don Revie, was born and bred in a poverty-stricken area of Middlesbrough, a fact which appeared to influence both the parsimonious way his teams played and what many observers saw as his obsessive attitude towards money.

Keegan was born, 48 years ago last week, into a mining family at Armthorpe in South Yorkshire. His late father, Joe, who had come "south" from Durham to find work in the pits, suffered from chronic bronchitis (although, intriguingly given his son's football philosophy, he liked to gamble), while his grandfather, Frank, had saved 30 miners and a pit pony in a disaster in the early part of the century.

A family of five, they moved to a terraced house in the centre of Doncaster, where the young Keegan first sampled the cut and thrust of football in 25-a-side struggles in the narrow streets. He was good, but he was small. While working as a clerk in a brass works, he attended trials at both Coventry City and Doncaster Rovers, only to be rejected by both on size grounds. Instead of settling for being a good local footballer - he played three times every weekend - he set about adding strength to his prodigious stamina. Sustained weight training paid off in 1968 when Scunthorpe United signed him as an apprentice. A nippy striker, he quickly graduated to the first team and began attracting the top clubs.

Bill Shankly, the legendary Liverpool manager who himself hailed from the Ayrshire coalfield, saw his chance. On May Day 1971, he paid Scunthorpe pounds 35,000, a sum he later described as "robbery with violence", and put Keegan on pounds 45 a week. Even then the newcomer showed that he was nobody's fool, arguing that he felt he was worth more and settling for the then princely wage of pounds 50.

In tandem with the towering John Toshack, his career blossomed. The following August he scored in front of the Kop 10 minutes into his debut; within 18 months he had won his first England cap; and three years after arriving at Anfield he had League champions, FA Cup and Uefa Cup winners' medals.

Most players would never have considered moving on at such a stage. Keegan, unfairly dismissed as a self-made rather than naturally gifted footballer, saw a move to Europe as a chance both to develop his technique and maximise his earning potential. His final game for Liverpool was the victorious European Cup final of 1977, after which he headed for the Bundesliga. After winning successive European Footballer of the Year awards, he joined Southampton in 1980, but there was to be no winding down.

His first coming at Newcastle, two years later, saw him score a debut winner and describe playing before "thousands of passionate Geordies" as an experience to equal anything in his life. But then Keegan's emotions have never been far from the surface; if Hoddle wore his mind on his sleeve, with calamitous consequences, Keegan has always pinned his heart there.

More often than not he is as bubbly as the perm he once sported. However, there is a darker side to his openness. Outbursts like the one he would famously direct against Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, during the psychological duel which ran parallel to the championship run- in of 1996 are part of a pattern of volatile behaviour.

Though never a dirty player, he had a short fuse which led to his being sent off in one of his early appearances for the England Under-23 side. More dramatically, he was dismissed with Leeds' Billy Bremner after they came to blows in the Charity Shield, of all matches, and compounded his offence by throwing down his shirt on the touchline.

In view of the role he has now taken on, it is also instructive to recall his reaction to rejection by England as a player. In 1975, when Revie left him out against Wales, Keegan walked out claiming it was "the end of my international career". Seven years later, after Bobby Robson failed to inform him that he would not be in his first squad, he announced his international retirement and did not refrain from criticising the new manager in the media.

After his seven-year, self-imposed exile on the Spanish greens, during which he broke his silence only to vow that he would never become a football manager, he leapt at the invitation to take over at Newcastle seven years ago this month. Again, though, the Tyneside "Messiah" was not slow to demonstrate a mercurial temperament. Five weeks into the job, he stormed out over what he considered to be broken promises about resources to strengthen the side.

His No 2, Terry McDermott, persuaded him to return. Newcastle avoided relegation to the old Third Division - and probable extinction - on the final day of the season. Then the roller-coaster ride began in earnest. They were promoted within 12 months, after which Keegan proclaimed with the bravado that so endeared him to the Toon Army: "Tell Alex [Ferguson] - we're coming to get him."

They nearly did, too, never more so than in 1995-96, when at one stage Newcastle led the Premiership by 12 points. They finished runners-up to Ferguson's United. For all his power to motivate and inspire players and fans, it was apparent that beneath the charisma and the refreshing willingness to attack, there were flaws in Keegan's ability to organise his team, especially in defence. In a tacit admission of his own shortcomings, he brought in Lawrenson, the former Liverpool centre-back, as specialist coach to the back four.

His relations with the media - whose capacity to break England managers is now beyond dispute - also soured. He refused to speak to the BBC for several weeks after what he saw as unfair questioning by Tony Gubba following a fracas between Faustino Asprilla and Manchester City's Keith Curle.

Soon he stopped seeing the local press on a daily basis. After a defeat at bottom-placed Coventry, he hurried to the coach, stony-faced, skipping his usual charm offensive on the media. Within a fortnight, during which he looked morose even when Newcastle scored, he was gone.

When Keegan left St James' Park two years ago last month - pushed out to appease the City, he later suggested - he had still not brought significant silverware to Tyneside. At Fulham, where he arrived as al-Fayed's "chief operating officer", he was again unable to resist stepping back into the manager's role after parting with Ray Wilkins last May.

Keegan planned in time to step back into an "overseeing" role. Yet he takes training, sits on the bench at matches and is "Gaffer" to the players. He again spent freely, but has been less cavalier in his tactical approach. Last week, preparing the Second Division leaders for what proved a gallant FA Cup exit at Old Trafford, he was once more denying interest in a job he would ultimately be unable to resist. But the game, he argued, was all about adventures. The roughest and toughest of them all is only just beginning.

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