Football: Keegan's zeal the tonic for England

AS RIO FERDINAND collected the ball near his own goal yesterday he spotted a silver-haired figure sprinting up the right calling for the ball. Ferdinand quickly pinged a perfectly-weighted pass forward and Kevin Keegan, 28 years his senior, took it on his chest and raced off down the wing like a teenager.

A few hours later, in the grounds of the England team hotel, Keegan was running through the injury list, a pre-match custom for every England manager since Walter Winterbottom. "It's an opportunity to play someone else," he said, "a chance to play another way. It might be a turning point, it might be the best thing that has ever happened."

It did not take long, watching Keegan at work yesterday, to realise that the quality he will bring most to the role of caretaker national coach is enthusiasm. It may only carry an international team so far but, the way England have been performing of late, it is just the tonic needed.

There are understandable reservations about the quality of Keegan's tactical sophistication, concerns he himself appreciated when he said: "I'm not your man for a 0-0 draw in the Ukraine." However, the immediate task is beating a moderate Polish side at home and any England team should be able to manage that if it is in a positive frame of mind.

This team should be. Not many of his England predecessors would have viewed an injury list which includes Darren Anderton, Robbie Fowler, Chris Sutton, David Seaman, Nigel Martyn and, most of all, Michael Owen, with Keegan's equanimity but his attitude will breed confidence among his players.

"He's so full of enthusiasm," said Ian Walker after training yesterday. "His love for the game shines through and rubs off on everyone else."

"I'm excited," said Keegan. "Working with these players is like being a kid in a toy shop. I'm delighted with the atmosphere. We have injuries but by Thursday night [when Keegan will make a final decision on the injured players] I'll still be able to pick a fantastic England team."

That team is unlikely to include Owen, who has not trained since straining a hamstring at Derby 11 days ago. Fowler took a knock on the knee in the same game and, with Sutton suffering from a back problem, Keegan's forward options are so limited he may call a replacement in tomorrow.

On the plus side David Beckham's calf problem and Nigel Martyn's back injury had eased enough for them to take part in yesterday's training session at Bisham Abbey but Anderton (groin) and Seaman (shoulder) also sat it out while Tony Adams appeared to be suffering from a heavy cold.

None of this prevented a lively session in which Keegan played a more peripheral role than expected. Howard Wilkinson, the FA's director of coaching, and Derek Fazackerly, Keegan's former coach at Newcastle, did most of the technical work, with Keegan preferring to do individual tuition or take a supervisory role along with Arthur Cox, his managerial mentor and the other member of his England coaching staff.

That was until the 10-a-side match which closed the session. Then Keegan was as involved as anyone, although he had mixed feelings when a neat turn by Steven Gerrard, the young Liverpool player with the squad for experience, left him bemused.

The media found it less easy to fool him. Drawing on more than a decade's experience in the trade, he said all the right things: It would be "a blow to lose any player" but no one would be risked unless they were fully fit; "I've been amazed at the co-operation from other managers"; "I felt proud when I pulled on my tracksuit and looked at the badge." Interestingly he also said that he "always thought he would be England manager one day."

In a refreshing change to his predecessor, Glenn Hoddle, he appeared to be honest when talking about injuries and open when discussing players' merits. Of Beckham he admitted: "I've always said I think he should be more involved and I think in the future he will be more central but, with a view to Saturday, he is in such good form playing wide for Manchester United, putting in such good crosses. Where I have got an opportunity is that I have Ray Parlour who can also play wide right or in midfield. They may be similar but don't rule out them both playing."

With Paul Ince suspended, David Batty injured and Nicky Butt not called up - a curious decision; Keegan said he was "close" - Keegan is short in midfield and may even give both Parlour and Tim Sherwood debuts.

He said: "In an ideal world you would like someone making a debut to look alongside and see someone with 30 or 40 caps. I know I would have preferred that. But this is the real world so I could say to them, `you're both playing at the top level; you're both in wonderful form'."

Keegan's playing experience in the real world in 1972 suggests he will not throw Parlour and Sherwood in together. Keegan made his international debut alongside Martin Chivers and Rodney Marsh, who had 12 and five caps respectively, played twice and was then dropped for 16 months.

So Paul Scholes, or Jamie Redknapp, is more likely to take one central place but Keegan added, with a typical flourish: "Why not play them both? They'll learn something, we all will, it might be very positive."

Keegan's reign may be short, but it will be eventful.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
tech
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
News
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
News
newsAstonishing moment a kangaroo takes down a drone
Life and Style
Duchess of Cambridge standswith officials outside of the former wartime spy centre in Bletchley Park
tech
News
people
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

The Jenrick Group: Project Manager

£35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'