Football: `I will be giving 1,000 per cent'

Nick Harris finds the new England coach in composed mood during his first public audience with the media
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The Independent Online
IN HIS first public appearance as the new England coach yesterday, Kevin Keegan displayed at least a measure of the trademark passion that led the Football Association to appoint him.

Asked how much he was looking forward to taking charge of the national side - albeit for only four matches - he replied: "Can't wait. Can't wait to pick the squad. Can't wait for the players to report fit. Can't wait to pick the team. Can't wait to watch them get out there."

If not quite vented with the same ferocity and lack of cool as Keegan occasionally showed as a manager at Newcastle United, it showed none the less that his enthusiasm for the task in hand runs deep.

If Keegan had not been aware of the level of interest in his appointment before he turned up at the Metropole Hotel in west London, he was left with few doubts once he arrived at the main entrance, and faced camera crews rushing at him and stills photographers stealing shots as he descended two floors to the basement even before he met the 150-plus journalists. Taking his seat for the first of three grillings - one each at the hands of television, the written press and radio - Keegan sat between David Davies, the FA's acting chief executive, and Howard Wilkinson, the technical director who is now part of his team.

Looking defensive at first under the glare of the cameras, he sat with his hands clenched across his knees and fidgeted with his collar. Asked how he can be committed to a job he has said he will only do for four months, he said: "I'll give 1,000 per cent. Anyone who knows me knows that." Asked the same question again immediately afterwards, he kept calm as he repeated: "I just told you, I will be giving 1,000 per cent."

Throughout the encounters, Wilkinson remained silent for most of the time, while David Davies fiddled with a pencil and looked nervous, as if his new man might suddenly say something controversial or lose his composure. Davies need not have worried, even when Keegan was baited by some of those journalists who are already casting aspersions on whether he has the temperament to succeed. One questioner asked what Keegan's next move would be, "if, by some extraordinary miracle England win the next four games." Fixing him with a stare, Keegan merely answered: "You see, you don't believe, do you," and went on to explain that it only mattered to him whether he would be able to inspire the players, not what others thought or wrote about him.

"I won't let the media put me off the job," he said. "All the words you write and all the things you say won't matter. We [gesturing, as he did frequently, with both hands, towards Davies and Wilkinson] will write your stories for you with results."

Keegan also demonstrated that he had two qualities many might say Glenn Hoddle lacked - diplomacy and evident humour. At one point he was asked if his Fulham chairman, Mohamed al-Fayed, might now get for a British passport for allowing his chief operating officer to take the England job. "He's a magnificent chairman but apart from that I don't talk about him," Keegan replied.

Earlier he showed wit and a sense of self-deprecation when listing his international experience as a player, an England captain - and as a presenter.

"I said `there's only one team that will win it and that's England', " he said, recalling a statement he made in a World Cup match minutes before Romania won. "But that's what everyone else thought then," he added, laughing. What everyone will think about him in a few months remains to be seen.