Football: Keegan a master of grand populist gesture

A HERO OF OUR TOON: The son of a Geordie miner fired an unfulfilled dream for fans of Newcastle United. Phil Shaw reports
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Kevin Keegan talked and spent himself into a position where anything less than the championship, which Newcastle United last won 70 years ago, would be regarded as failure.

After an outlay of pounds 60m on players in less than five years, Newcastle needed to be running away with the Premiership as they appeared to be doing this time last year. Instead they stand fourth in the table, five points off the pace albeit with a game in hand, and the self-imposed pressure of Keegan's position became intolerable.

If the timing of his resignation was surprising, Newcastle having scored 10 goals in winning the last two home games, the announcement was not entirely unexpected. In the same way that Keegan was liable to make sudden moves in the transfer market, he showed repeatedly that he was sensitive to criticism and prone to acting on his volatile emotions.

Local journalists were amazed how agitated he became when critical letters appeared in the Newcastle Chronicle, but the most glaring example came after the match at Leeds last April. By then Manchester United had all but sealed the title. A strained-looking Keegan said in a cracked voice that Alex Ferguson, the United manager, had gone down in his estimation because of his alleged use of psychological warfare.

Many who witnessed the outburst regarded it as confirmation that Ferguson had reeled in Keegan, hook, line and sinker. The runners-up spot, Newcastle's best position since 1927, was scant consolation - which in itself highlighted the extent to which Keegan, in alliance with Sir John Hall, had raised expectations on Tyneside.

Strange as it seems now, he was an unexpected choice to succeed Ossie Ardiles at St James' Park in February 1992, when Newcastle lay second from the foot of the former Second Division.

Having bowed out of football, the sum total of Keegan's involvement in sport had been to play golf in Marbella for seven years. He told one reporter: "If anyone ever hears that I'm coming back to football full-time, they can laugh as much as I will. It'll never happen. That's for certain."

But Hall, a multi-millionaire who was relatively new to football and unaccustomed to being turned down, recognised his Messianic qualities. Their backgrounds may have appeared dissimilar, yet both were the sons of Geordie miners, and Keegan confessed that he had secretly cherished the thought of returning to the club where he finished his playing days.

Before his first game in charge, at home to Bristol City, Keegan announced his team to an expectant press conference. He read out only 10 names. Since the player he omitted to mention, Alan Neilson, was a defender, hindsight might construe it as a Freudian slip.

The gate almost doubled to nearly 30,000 that day, and Newcastle won 3-1. After an early falling-out with Hall - Keegan threatened to quit when promised funds were not forthcoming to buy Brian Kilcline - he revamped the side and managed to avert relegation to the Third Division by virtue of victory at Leicester on the final day.

Twelve months on, Keegan's first full campaign also ended against Leicester. This time Newcastle won 7-1 and were crowned champions. A banner proclaimed him "God on the Tyne".

Consolidation did not figure in the vocabulary of either Hall, whose vision was to turn Newcastle into a sporting institution on a par with Barcelona and Milan, or Keegan, whose target of the championship seemed almost prosaic by comparison.

Three and a half seasons, a million replica shirts and a couple of near misses later, the silverware has still not come to the North-east. Keegan's pursuit of the Grail has been relentless. Two years ago, he took the extraordinary step of selling Andy Cole, the fans' idol, to Manchester United for pounds 7m. He eventually used the money to buy Les Ferdinand, paying a further pounds 7.5m for Faustino Asprilla a year ago.

Although Keegan vehemently disputed the theory, the signing of Asprilla, a Colombian striker noted for his maverick tendencies, self-evidently unbalanced a team who were by then 12 points clear. It now transpires that last summer, in the wake of Newcastle's "failure", Keegan offered to resign but was talked out of it.

He revived his own and public spirits in his trademark manner, by spending heavily on an attacker. Asked if he had any reservations about lavishing a world-record pounds 15m on Alan Shearer, Keegan answered flippantly but tellingly: "I like buying players." He might have added that he was also partial to grand populist gestures.

What he was less good at was integrating the stars he bought into a team pattern; the nitty-gritty graft on the training ground that comes naturally to the likes of Ferguson and George Graham. That involved coaching ability and tactical awareness. By inviting Mark Lawrenson to work on Newcastle's defensive shortcomings, Keegan was tacitly admitting he did not possess either.

The top-heavy look of his line-up - with one of two weak goalkeepers and a ponderous back four, embellished by flamboyant forwards like Asprilla and David Ginola - remained an indictment of his preference for style over substance. Prior to the upturn in their fortunes over the festive period, they had gone seven games without a win and have not won away for three months.

That is not to say Keegan was no more than a PR man or a cheque-book manager. When it all fell into place, such as the 7-1 annihilation of Tottenham or the rout of Ferencvaros in the Uefa Cup, Newcastle could be an irresistible force and an exhilarating sight.

In statistical terms, a 55 per cent win rate during his 249-match reign makes him St James' most successful manager ever. The trophy cabinet suggests otherwise. For Keegan, who knew nothing but glory with Liverpool, Hamburg and England, that was the bottom line.

KEEGAN'S RUN

Playing honours

Liverpool (1971-77): League Championship 1972-73, 1975-76, 1976-77; FA Cup 1973-74; Uefa Cup 1972-73; 1975-76 European Cup 1976-77.

Hamburg (1977-81): Bundesliga 1978-79.

Newcastle (1982-84): Second Division 1983-84.

England (1972-84) 63 caps, 21 goals.

Awards: Footballer of the Year 1976; European Player of the Year 1978, 1979; PFA Player of the Year 1982.

Managerial honours

Newcastle (1992-97): First Division championship (1992-93).

1991-92 Second Division

P W D L F A Pts Pos

16 7 2 7 23 25 23 20

FA Cup: Third round. League Cup: Third round (Newcastle out of both competitions before Keegan's arrival)

1992-93 "New" First Division

46 29 9 8 92 38 96 1

FA Cup: Fifth round. League Cup: Third round

1993-94 Premiership

42 23 8 11 82 41 77 3

FA Cup: Fourth round. League Cup: Third round

1994-95 Premiership

42 20 12 10 67 47 72 6

FA Cup: Sixth round. League Cup: Fourth round. Uefa Cup: Second round

1995-96 Premiership

38 24 6 8 66 37 78 2

FA Cup: Third round. League Cup: Fifth round

1996-97 Premiership (to date)

21 11 4 6 38 22 37 4

FA Cup: at home to Charlton (third round replay). League Cup: Fourth round. Uefa Cup: home and away to Monaco (quarter-finals)

Major transfer deals

* Please add ",000" to figures not expressed in millions

INS

Player From Fee* Date

John Beresford Portsmouth pounds 650 Jun 92

Barry Venison Liverpool pounds 250 Jul 92

Robert Lee Charlton pounds 700 Sep 92

Scott Sellars Leeds pounds 700 Mar 93

Andy Cole Bristol City pounds 1.7m Mar 93

Peter Beardsley Everton pounds 1.5m Jun 93

Alex Mathie Morton pounds 250 Jul 93

Ruel Fox Norwich pounds 2.25m Feb 94

Darren Peacock QPR pounds 2.7m Mar 94

Marc Hottiger Sion pounds 600 Jul 94

Philippe Albert Anderlecht pounds 2.65m Aug 94

Paul Kitson Derby pounds 2.25m Sep 94

Keith Gillespie Man Utd pounds 1m Jan 95 (exchange deal with Cole)

Warren Barton Wimbledon pounds 4m Jun 95

Les Ferdinand QPR pounds 6m Jun 95

David Ginola Paris SG pounds 2.5m Jul 95

Shaka Hislop Reading pounds 1.5m Aug 95

Darren Huckerby Lincoln pounds 500 Nov 95

Faustino Asprilla Parma pounds 6.7m Feb 96

David Batty Blackburn pounds 3.75m Feb 96

Alan Shearer Blackburn pounds 15m Jul 96

OUTS

Player To Fee* Date

David Kelly Wolves pounds 750 Jun 93

Gavin Peacock Chelsea pounds 1.25m Jul 93

Alan Thompson Bolton pounds 250 Jul 93

Kevin Scott Tottenham pounds 850 Feb 94

Andy Cole Man Utd pounds 7m Jan 95 (exchange with Gillespie)

Alex Mathie Ipswich pounds 500 Feb 95

Paul Bracewell Sunderland pounds 100 May 95

Alan Neilson S'hampton pounds 500 May 95

Barry Venison Galatasaray pounds 750 Jun 95

Ruel Fox Tottenham pounds 4.2m Oct 95

Scott Sellars Bolton pounds 750 Dec 95

Marc Hottiger Everton pounds 700 Jan 96

Darren Huckerby Coventry pounds 1m Nov 96

Expenditure since February 92: pounds 59.77m

Income since February 92: pounds 21.195m

First and last teams

Keegan's first team as Newcastle manager v Bristol City, 8 February 1992, at St James' Park

Tommy Wright; Ray Ranson, Alan Neilson, Kevin Scott, Mark Stimson; Steve Watson, Gavin Peacock, Liam O'Brien, Kevin Brock; David Kelly, Terry Wilson (David Roche).

Result: 3-0. Scorers: Kelly 2, O'Brien.

Kevin Keegan's last Newcastle team v Charlton, 5 January 1997, at The Valley

Shaka Hislop; Steve Watson, Darren Peacock, Philippe Albert, John Beresford; Robert Lee, David Batty, Peter Beardsley, Lee Clark; Les Ferdinand, Alan Shearer.

Result: 1-1. Scorer: Lee.

Comments