Football: Keegan diverted down the Tyne

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The Independent Online
SUCH IS the size of the media circus that now surrounds the English team there are times, as we sit in the tented press village which surrounds their hotel like a besieging army's encampment, when it seems like the world and his dog is following their fortunes.

This illusory state of affairs was briefly lifted yesterday when Kevin Keegan and his inquisitors were forced to reflect that attention had been diverted to Tyneside. Not even the news that neither Jamie Redknapp nor Chris Sutton would be fit to play against Luxembourg at Wembley tomorrow brought the spotlight back to national affairs - partly because both should be fit to play in the other European Championship qualifying match, in Poland next week.

Bobby Robson's first act as England manager, 17 years ago, was to dispense with Keegan's services but they have long since made up. Yesterday Keegan was happy to offer his support to Robson as he attempts to succeed where Kenny Dalglish and Ruud Gullit failed and live up to the expectation Keegan created when he was Newcastle's manager.

"I think it's a great appointment," Keegan said. "He's a Geordie. He obviously loves and understands the club, which I think is really, really important and a massive advantage. People there wanted someone to relate to, there's less and less Geordie players, just like there's less cockneys playing for Chelsea and Arsenal. There's something in supporters saying, `foreign players are great, but it's good to have one or two locals'.

"It is remarkable, at 66, to go into a job like that. I think if it was any other club you'd wonder, but it's a club he knows. He's the right guy at the right time. You're talking about steadying the ship first of all; there's also a lot of foreign players and he's used to working with them. I wish him all the luck in the world. When I went there as a player, that's what he wished me."

Keegan's approval is not necessarily a guarantee of success. He added: "At the time I thought Kenny Dalglish was the right appointment."

Not that Keegan had forgotten England. Robson's preference for wingers could help Alan Shearer rediscover his form and Keegan added: "Getting stability to the club will help all the players, not least Shearer. He's their captain and record signing. He's a centre-forward looking to score goals."

Keegan was less effusive about the impact on Shearer of Graham Kelly's allegation, in his autobiography, that he threatened to pull out of the World Cup if the Football Association charged him over the incident in which he appeared to kick Neil Lennon, of Leicester, in the head.

"You'll have to speak to him about that next week [Keegan has decided against allowing Shearer to be interviewed this week], but it definitely does not appear to have affected his mood in training at all."

Training has been gradually filling up with fit bodies, the latest withdrawals leaving 20 to pick from. Of the absent, Redknapp, who has an Achilles injury, would probably have started against Luxembourg but Sutton, whose foot injury is clearly more serious than he thought, would not.

One who will is Steve McManaman, who looked relaxed on his return from Spain, where he has started well at Real Madrid. Keegan, a believer in the former Liverpool player, said he "expected to see a different McManaman". He added: "You know what he's capable of. What he has to do is produce that for England and I think the move might be good for him. I know what it did to me back in 1977. It asks you different questions abroad."

McManaman said he was enjoying himself. "Over there when the football is going well, everything else seems to go well. At this moment everything is positive. It's very early but we're top of the league and I've scored a couple of goals. Though I haven't started the games I couldn't have wished for anything else.

"Apart from missing family and friends, there's nothing I can be the remotest bit negative about. My girlfriend is there at the moment. The house we're in is great and so is the city."

From Newcastle to Madrid, Planet Football keeps on turning, but tomorrow the spotlight will be back on those famous few acres of Wembley turf.

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