Football: Keegan's friendly gesture

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The Independent Online
KEVIN KEEGAN, the new full-time England coach, has pledged to put an end to "meaningless" friendlies to help ease the crowded fixture schedule. Several club managers, including Arsenal's Arsene Wenger, have criticised the number of friendly internationals, especially at vital stages of the domestic season.

While Keegan will continue to arrange fixtures against high-quality opposition, he wants to avoid home games against relative minnows. He believes that training sessions with his squad would be just as useful during periods of inactivity between competitive games which tend to frustrate national coaches. Keegan said: "I've felt in the past that there have been so many games that even as a commentator, you can't see how they would be a real test. I hope you find during my time that the games will be real, and that if the record says, `Played five, won five on the trot', it will be against teams really worth beating. If we're going to play so-called weaker opposition, I'd like to play them away from home."

Wenger suggested that international football had become devalued and that clubs were often stronger than national sides. Keegan does not agree. "Managers often talk from a club perspective, and Arsene might feel differently if he was the manager of France. But I've never seen the players come out and say, `It's not what it used to be', and the reason I'm here now is that I know the players want to play for England."

Using the time between internationals to the best effect is a matter which Keegan has clearly spent time addressing. While he feels that it would be valuable to visit clubs' training grounds to hold one-to-one sessions, he realises it may not be practical. One plan he is determined to introduce is to tour schools around the country with certain England players.

"Everyone says you'll miss the day-to-day involvement, but we're going to do all sorts. I won't just be sat watching games. There are other things that I think are really important and I'd like to get the players involved with that. We've got to look at the bigger picture - how to tell the youngsters about football, how fit you've got to be, how you train, diet - things that are educational."

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