Football: Keegan's brave, brief new world

The England succession: Former Newcastle management team is reunited to take on `the biggest job in football'
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The Independent Online
KEVIN KEEGAN would love it, just love it, if he could leave what he describes as "the biggest job in football" after four victories, but the new England coach was adamant last night that even a 100 per-cent record would not persuade him to forsake Fulham when his caretaker stint finishes in June.

Keegan, facing the media in a London hotel last night for the first time since accepting the job on a part-time basis, stood firm on his commitment to the Second Division promotion favourites. Yet the 48-year-old former England captain held out the tantalising possibility of returning to lead his country after his contract at Craven Cottage runs out in the summer of 2000.

"Maybe this job will come around again if I do it well, and please God I do," Keegan said as a barrage of flashlights flickered in his face. "That's what I hope, assuming I do a good job. If I don't, it'll never come again."

Pressed as to whether he would really be able to walk away, especially if results were positive, Keegan said: "I said from the start that that's the way it is. What they've got to do in the long term is find the right guy - and that's not me at the moment."

The coach who led England until his dismissal this month, Glenn Hoddle, was often accused of being away with the fairies. Keegan will be away with the Fulham when he might have been expected to be assessing players and future opponents, but he dismissed suggestions that his loyalty to Fulham would hinder his capacity to do the job.

"The most important time will be the six days before the Poland game [on 27 March]," he said. "It may look part-time, but it'll be full-time from Kevin Keegan when it really matters. I don't accept that's a bizarre situation - in fact I believe it's the best situation for England."

Keegan, who recalled that playing under Joe Mercer's caretaker management was a "fantastic" experience, explained that Howard Wilkinson, the FA's technical director and Hoddle's temporary successor for last week's defeat by France, would perform many of his scouting duties. "Despite what some people might think, I won't have a problem with that," Keegan said, throwing a friendly glance at Wilkinson, who sat at his side.

Wilkinson, similarly keen to dispel speculation about a clash of egos and interests, said that Keegan would have sole responsibility for selecting the squad, the team and the tactics.

Keegan will rely heavily on the former Blackburn and Newcastle coach, Derek Fazackerley, who joins the set-up today and has already been earmarked to analyse Keegan's first opponents, Poland, when they play Armenia. Fazackerley parted company with Blackburn following the dismissal of Roy Hodgson, the former Switzerland coach, who may now come back into the FA's thinking as a long-term option.

Arthur Cox, the manager who signed Keegan for Newcastle as a player, will also join the back-room staff. Cox, currently chief scout for Fulham, has a wealth of experience as a top-flight manager. However, there is no place in Keegan's brave, brief new world for Hoddle's former deputy, John Gorman. The Scot had stayed on to assist Wilkinson but now leaves the FA payroll.

The new "team behind the team" will have their first test when the Poles come to Wembley for a pivotal European Championship qualifying fixture. A month later, England go to Hungary for a friendly, while Keegan's reign is scheduled to end after further Euro 2000 qualifiers against Sweden and Bulgaria in June.

Admitting he ought really to have been on his way to Kingstonian, where the Polish club Widzew Lodz played last night, Keegan said he could not wait to name his first squad or to greet the players when they turn up for training.

"I know a few of them because I've worked with them before. We've got some great players in this country," he added, reeling off names such as Shearer, Cole, Fowler, Redknapp and Campbell while stressing his eagerness to work with Michael Owen. Intriguingly, Keegan later suggested in a radio interview that Paul Gascoigne was also in his thoughts for the Poland game.

But how would Keegan's England play? "First I like to get a result, whatever people may think. I didn't set to lose 4-3 at Liverpool [with Newcastle] - that's just the way it worked out. It'll be a passionate side and one that will go forward at every opportunity, but hopefully not a naive one."

Patriotism will play a role in his attempts to ensure England play with the pride he showed in the shirt. Franck Leboeuf's aside about the absence of the British bulldog spirit will be pinned on the dressing-room wall, while players would be expected to sing the national anthem. "If you're asking whether I'd drop those who don't join in," he said with a grin, "well, that depends who it is."