Football: Keegan signs pounds 3m FA deal at last

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The Independent Online
IT HAS taken 91 days since first contact but the Football Association finally got its man yesterday when Kevin Keegan signed a pounds 3m contract to be England's senior coach until the summer of 2002. A few hours earlier, just across west London, his old club, Fulham, announced a less-heralded appointment. Paul Bracewell, Keegan's assistant, is to be his successor. It is the former England international's first managerial appointment.

The Keegan deal runs to the end of the World Cup in Japan and South Korea and while Keegan was not so bold as to promise as Sir Alf Ramsey did, that England would win it, he did go so far to say "if things go really well for us we could".

England, as Keegan recognises, will expect nothing less. "On the train down I made a few notes," he said. "I thought what do the fans want? They want success. What do the fans need? They need entertainment sometimes. What do the fans expect? They expect everything. Neither the fans, the media nor the money puts me under pressure. My own expectations put me under pressure."

Keegan's immediate task is to qualify England for the 2002 European Championship in Belgium and the Netherlands. He believes, with reason, that England's most likely route is through the play-offs as "it is no longer in our hands". His next match is on 6 June against the group leaders, Sweden, at Wembley but before then he will see Sweden host a friendly against Jamaica on 27 May.

The long gap between matches, the lack of day-to-day contact with players, is something Keegan admits he will miss. It is the Fulham players he said he would miss most, while he gave thanks to Mohamed Al Fayed's support and understanding both while he was in charge at Fulham and in the nature of his departure.

"Parting is always difficult but it was as amicable a move as it could be," he said. "I think the fans, if you did a poll, would say they are disappointed but understand. It has been a great 18 months and Paul and Frank Sibley can now take it on."

David Davies, the FA's acting chief executive, said: "We thank Fulham for their co-operation, not least Mr Al Fayed. We understand their sadness; their loss is England's gain."

For his part, Bracewell was pleased to see Fulham put their faith in those who helped the club to their first championship in 50 years. "There have been examples when high-profile managers have been appointed," he said. "Sometimes that works but sometimes continuity works and Paul Jewell at Bradford has been a good example [of that]."

Bracewell, who has taken charge of team affairs during Keegan's absence, has signed a two-year deal and will continue to work alongside assistant manager Frank Sibley.

"I spent two and a half years as assistant to Peter Reid at Sunderland and worked with Kevin here and I'm pleased Frank is going to be my assistant," Bracewell said.

Keegan, meanwhile, was talking about players again. "They are the reason I am here. I didn't need four games [his initial temporary appointment] to find out that they want. With the ability they've got that gives us a chance."

Keegan said he did not want England playing meaningless friendlies but would prefer to conduct training sessions instead. Though the FA at present appears to be bending over backwards to please Keegan this is likely to cause friction as several games, such as the recent match in Hungary, clearly have commercial and/or political undertones to the arrangement.

More pleasing for the FA was Keegan's suggestion that he lead players in a series of coaching clinics to schools to educate them on both the game and other related matters, such as diet. For all Keegan's enthusiasm, media friendly image and popularity he knows, however, that the bottom line is results. Asked what an England manager needs to be, he replied: "He has got to be successful. As Sir Alf proved, if you are winning football matches everything else falls into place."

Saints' survival battle, page 29