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Football: Keegan's job secure beyond Euro 2000

KEVIN KEEGAN has been given the unqualified backing of the Football Association chairman Geoff Thompson to carry on as England coach - even if the national side struggle at next summer's European Championship finals.

Keegan has reportedly admitted that he would have quit if his side had lost in the Euro 2000 play-offs to Scotland and would be unlikely to keep his post unless England did "fantastically well" in the tournament itself. However, the FA chairman has sought to relieve any semblance of pressure on Keegan by insisting that qualifying from the group stages would represent a "major achievement" in itself.

Thompson insisted that Keegan was - and remains - the right man for the job and he declared: "If we hadn't qualified, there would have been no pressure on Kevin Keegan. The main aim has always been the 2002 World Cup. There's no point giving somebody the job if you give him a gun with a bullet in it. I have the utmost confidence in him.

"I'm more than happy with Kevin and there is a unity at the FA behind that point of view. We picked the right man and I'm sure that he'll prove to be a very good England manager," Thompson added.

Criticism of Keegan's tactical abilities intensified following the 1- 0 defeat by Scotland at Wembley in the second leg of the play-offs, with calls starting for him to bring in an experienced international coach such as Don Howe to work alongside him. Thompson responded: "I'm not qualified to comment on his coaching ability, and I shouldn't think he would want anybody who couldn't do the job to comment on it. I'm sure he seeks the appropriate advice when he feels he needs it."

Middlesbrough's former England midfielder Paul Gascoigne has had a cartilage operation that will put him out of action for about a month. There was better news yesterday, though, for Robbie Fowler, who could play for Liverpool's reserves away to Middlesbrough at Billingham Synthonia's ground tonight.

Fowler, who has missed Liverpool's last 12 first-team matches, has twice experienced a reaction to his troublesome ankle injury after playing in previous reserve games. Gerard Houllier, the Anfield manager, said: "We have been very careful with Robbie, but he needs the games."

Liverpool have allowed the Norwegian defender Frode Kippe to join Stoke City on a month's loan. Emmanuel Omoyinmi, the West Ham forward who was mistakenly fielded in last week's Worthington Cup tie against Aston Villa, has joined Scunthorpe United on loan.

Derby County's Greek defender Vassilis Borbokis could be on his way out of English football. The 30-year-old wing-back is set to return to Greece after PAOK Salonika confirmed their interest in the former Sheffield United player. The Rams are only likely to ask a nominal fee for the player who cost them pounds 600,000 from the Blades in March.

The Newcastle United manager, Bobby Robson, has blocked an attempt by Marseilles to sign the Magpies' French defender Franck Dumas. "He's over here with his agent and the agent thinks all he has to do is take him away," Robson said. "We are putting the agent straight."

Portsmouth have named Dave Kemp as their new first-team coach in succession to Kevin Bond, who was sacked last week. Kemp, who has coached at Millwall, Crystal Palace and Wimbledon and had a spell as manager of Plymouth Argyle, was a striker with Portsmouth in the 1970s. Bob McNab will continue in his role as caretaker manager while the club search for a successor to Alan Ball.