Football: He was at odds with a policy alien to his nature

Ken Jones looks at the man who said he never wanted to manage

There were enough revealing images of Kevin Keegan in times of disappointment and frustration to suggest that he would not have a long career in football management. Indeed, the only surprise about his decision to resign yesterday was that it came later rather than sooner.

In Keegan's case it is not enough to conclude that pressure imposed by the responsibility of massive investment proved intolerable. He was not simply overwhelmed by specifics. Nor, like some in the profession, could he lean on rage.

Volatile, the inability to conceal his innermost feelings manifest in emotional outbursts, finding it difficult to compromise, Keegan probably suffered most from a purity of spirit. "If we can only win the championship by changing the way we try to play, I'll get out," he said last season after a debilitating 4-3 defeat at Liverpool. For him the joy was not only in victory but in the manner.

That Keegan even entertained management astonished many who knew him. There was no question that he wanted the job at Newcastle. A larger question was how long he would continue to want it. This season he has often seemed moodily uncertain.

Following a loss at Leicester, Keegan denied BBC television an interview on the grounds that he had been let down last year over the reporting of an incident at Manchester City involving the Colombian international, Faustino Asprilla. After a recent defeat at Coventry, he left without a word to waiting reporters and was seen staring blankly from the windows of the darkened team bus.

Keegan was an expedient footballer rather than gifted. He had good feet, a strong body, quickness, drive and the determination to make the most of every opportunity. Management required different things from him but not a different set of values. His way or not at all, which led to an early conflict with Newcastle's ambitious benefactor, Sir John Hall, and maybe was at the root of his resignation.

The appointment, unique in English football, of a former Liverpool team- mate, Mark Lawrenson, as defensive co-ordinator carried the suspicion of interference. Even when Tottenham were crushed 7-1 to end a run of seven matches without a victory, Keegan was curiously uninspired, perhaps already convinced that it was time to end his association with the club.

One night some time ago, on the eve of the Grand National and a match Newcastle had at Manchester City, I was invited to dinner with Keegan and his coaches in a hotel just outside Warrington. I reminded him that he had frequently argued against the idea of becoming a manager. "This was different," he said. "I couldn't resist the challenge but I don't expect to be doing it all my life." On television recently, interviewed while playing golf with Alan Shearer, I heard him say something similar. The difference was that he did not appear to be thinking very far into the future.

Football tells anyone who watches intelligently about the times in which we live: about managed news and corporate politics, about what the process of pressure does to strong men. Television makes every living room an arena. If that is what you want for your living room, televised sport can be thrilling, but the focus on managers has become so intense that we are left in no doubt about their emotions, lips moving in profanity, a winner's joy, a loser's despair. The handshakes perfunctory.

Talk is another kind of mask. Some managers beat away questions with other questions and hold people off with small pronouncements. Others become lovers of silences. Keegan has always worn his heart on his sleeve, sensitive to criticism as he was revealingly last season when needled by Alex Ferguson at a critical stage of the championship.

We can only imagine the effect of Hall's statement - subsequently denied - that Newcastle must win something this season, on Keegan. But it surely prompted his offer to resign following a Boxing Day defeat at Blackburn.

By then it was perfectly plausible that Keegan was at odds with a policy alien to his nature. Once he accepted grudgingly that a more secure formation was necessary, he was lost. Adrift of the leaders, his team was neither one thing or another. Every day, as autumn deepened into winter, he must have thought seriously about turning his back on it all.

The exhilarating boldness that characterised Newcastle's best football under Keegan, boldness in denial of principles that most modern coaches hold sacrosanct, was of another time. It was of Real Madrid in the 50s and 60s, the Tottenham Double team, the best of Manchester United under Matt Busby. "Too much mind will make the game less attractive and may eventually destroy it," Busby once said.

Mind did not figure greatly in Keegan's philosophy. Adventure, football as the glory game, did and the thrilling sight of it filled Newcastle's fans with optimism. Last season's disappointment when Manchester United made up 12 points to take the championship was overtaken when pounds 15m was spent to acquire Alan Shearer. But, with that one record purchase, Keegan put his foot in a bucket. He could not afford to fail again.

Was it simply disenchantment that prompted Keegan's resignation? Or did he turn away from the man who, more than anyone else, represents the idea of football as big business? The reason is less important than the fact.

Sport
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
scienceScientists have developed a material so dark you can't see it...
News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
Gavin Maxwell in Sandaig with one of his pet otters
peopleWas the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?
News
Rowsell says: 'Wearing wigs is a way of looking normal. I pick a style and colour and stick to it because I don't want to keep wearing different styles'
peopleThe World Champion cyclist Joanna Rowsell on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?